Fenerbahçe SK 0-3 Arsenal: Flawless Away Performance

So, just as we all expected, a rampant Arsenal stormed the seaside fortress of Istanbul and tonked the would-be tonkers by three clear goals.


I'll own up to the fact that I thought we were in for a hell of a hiding. Had we not had several players recover from injury in the nick of time, it still may have happened. However, they did, and the Gunners' first-team squad had more than enough about them to carry the day.

You will read a lot about how our hosts were awful in all phases of the game, and much of that will be true. What I don't think you'll read as much of is the fact that Arsenal's relentless pressing and solid defensive organization was a huge cause of that.

Even hours later, I sit here gobsmacked at the degree to which the roles were reversed. Despite a crowd that gave everything for their heroes (mostly an incessant shrill whistling that sounded like 20,000 pelicans being strangled by 20,000 howler monkeys, but stlll), Fener were nervous and never got out of the blocks. I don't think they strung two passes together until the 30th minute.

Their defense played well in the first half though, especially in the wake of Arsenal's incisive passing and intelligent off-the-ball play. It was frustrating at times to see such sharp attacks fizzle and die repeatedly in the first half, often down to one poor final ball. The story of our lives, you know? The way Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and especially Aaron Ramsey were playing, you felt the breakthrough had to come sooner or later - unless a soul-destroying sucker punch was lurking in the background.

You never can shake that feeling with this bunch - not even in a match like this. Not until it's well and truly safe.

There were early chances, though. Fenerbahce keeper Volkan Demirel (Turkey's # 1, for the record) made an outstanding sliding clearance to deny one, and was sharp to catch and hold a deflection off of Olivier Giroud's chest on another. Demirel is a talented guy, but our Preview by Numbers man John can back me up on this - I said on Facebook before the match that if the guy committed a ludicrous howler to gift us one, you heard it from me first. More on that later.

It was a largely uneventful half though, with the trifling exception of yet another injury to our defensive corps. How Pierre Webo didn't earn an early bath for this, I'll never know. He and Laurent Koscielny were in close quarters fighting for the ball, and Webo attempted to play the ball with a dangerously-high foot. Instead, he kicked our man square in the face, enough to draw blood and cause him to be substituted. I continue to be astonished how a kick that would end a UFC fight earns the same punishment as taking your shirt off to celebrate a goal. FIFA LOGIC~!

Fener came out in better spirits in the second half and were just starting to get their bearings when Arsenal stunned them with a brilliant goal. Anyone who watched our preseason matches saw how vastly improved Ramsey's range of passing has gotten, and he displayed it again here. The Welshman began the move with a precision diagonal pass that set Walcott off in acres down the right. That drew Demirel out, and the retreating defenders could not deal with Theo's perfect square ball across the six-yard box. The hosts' right-back was closer to Ankara than he was to the unmarked Kieran Gibbs, who easily tapped in at the back post to give us a vital away goal.

Hands up, anyone who had him on your first-goal betting slips.

Theo quickly tested Demirel again, but soon the hosts were away up the other end. A goal here would have gotten the home side right back in it, and so easily could have led to more the way our mental state has been. All of you extremely wrong people who are wrong about stuff who bagged on Szczesny for the Villa game (for the crimes of one PK that was Koscielny's fault and one ramble outside the area that he saved anyway) need to remember this the next time you want to make him the scapegoat. Webo flicked a pass on to the rushing Moussa Sow, who had beaten Per Mertesacker for pace. Out came Szczesny in a flash (I seem to remember highlighting this skill of his in our season preview) and sacrificed his body to keep it out. You could see the stud marks on his neck for the whole rest of the game - seriously, it looked like he was mauled by a rabid vampire badger.

Arsenal recovered though, Wilshere forcing another strong save from the Turkish keeper. However, my Facebook portent came true a minute later. Ramsey was both architect and finisher, as he capped a fine run with a finely-lashed shot into the low corner. Demirel was there and got a hand on it, but he could only slow it down on its way in. It's true that the shot had pace on it, but that was absolutely a case of a keeper whose concentration let him down, who lost the flight of the ball somewhere along the way. As I said, Demirel is a fine keeper who will, at times, destroy his team with an ill-timed case of the Almunias.

Walcott could have sunk Fener further into misery when Demirel's atrocious goal kick went right to him. However, he ran himself into too acute of an angle to test the keeper, and could only fire over the bar. That chance was waste, but he made up for it by winning a penalty soon after. His determined run into the area led to Michal Kadlec hauling him down in utterly brain-dead fashion. It has to be said, Walcott was excellent in the second half after a borderline-appalling first stanza. Anyway, Giroud stepped up to take the spot kick, and sent Demirel the wrong way.

Three away goals. Football, bloody hell.

There was still time for the hosts to at least give themselves the goal that would give them the faint hope of a 2-0 away win, but Szczesny again imposed himself on the game when it mattered. Kadlec evaded his marker in the penalty area and hammered a shot on goal, but Szczesny was there to deny him. Minutes later, the substitute Emmanuel Emenike hit an even harder-shot from even closer in, but the Pole got two strong hands on it to guide it to safety. That was an absolute wonder save. Love that kid.

The remaining time played out with no further hitches, leaving Arsenal three away goals to the good in a tie that should now be over. Again, this was every inch as much of a great performance from our guys as it was a horrendous one from the hosts. The one thing Arsene has been right about in his recent series of quotes is that our first XI is a strong one. On their day, they can beat anyone in the world - just ask the world-conquering Bayern Munich. However, as much of a fillip as this result can and will be, the fact of the matter is that results like this depend on that XI being fit and available for selection. It's a long season, and that won't always be the case.

Please, Arsene. Give us the squad depth to provide these brave Gunners with some reinforcements. They can't do it alone.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8: Could have been MOTM on another day. Several brilliant saves and he was brave in the face of the onrushing Sow.

Gibbs 8: Excellent timing on his run to the back post for the goal, and was a constant threat down the left otherwise.

Koscielny 7: Had some timely clearances before being Anderson Silva'd in the face.

(Jenkinson 7): Did well when called upon, slotted right in with no fuss.

Mertesacker 6: Not the best of games for the BFG. He got torched a few times and seemed to be to go missing a bit on the plays where Szczesny saved us.

Sagna 7: This emergency center-half lark may end up being his best position at this point.

Wilshere 8: Strong in all aspects of the game - tackled well, excellent passing and might have scored himself on another day.

Ramsey 9: Arguably his finest performance in an Arsenal shirt. His on-field vision and through-balls resembled Cazorla on a good day, and his willingness to test Demirel gave us a priceless second goal.

Cazorla 8: He's such a good player that sometimes his genius seems banal. Kept the offense ticking with his usual array of perfect passes.

Rosicky 8: Much, much improved performance from the Villa game. He is much more effective when his is the pass that is two or three before the final one or before the shot, as was the case here. His energy was infectious as well.

Walcott 8: Ordinary in the first half, he rebounded to cause Fener endless torment down the right in the second half. Fabulous assist on the first goal and did well to win the penalty.

(Monreal N/A):  Good to see him back.

Giroud 8: Coolly slotted home the penalty to put the tie out of reach, but more importantly his hold-up play was vastly better than it was against Villa.

(Podolski N/A): Quick cameo at the end - the guys on the field played too well to warrant an earlier sub.

Man of the Match:  Aaron Ramsey