Besiktas JK 0-0 Arsenal: Can't Find an Away Goal

Earlier, before the match, I rather breezily predicted that we would win 2-0. Let me admit, right here in the lede, that I badly underestimated this Besiktas side. They fought their asses off, hunted in packs, and gave Arsenal everything they could handle in a spirited attempt to come to London with something substantial. Thankfully, a combination of resilience on Arsenal's part and horrendous finishing from the home side allowed us to escape Istanbul with a useful draw.

How different it could have been though had Wojciech Szczesny's reflexes and footwork been slightly less up to snuff. Demba Ba fired a cheeky effort on goal directly from the opening kick-off - normally those go several postal codes high and wide, but trajectory was on point here. Szczesny was equal to the task though, as he was able to tip it off the post and away to safety.

Besiktas has put down a marker that they were not going to gift the visitors with a free pass to the Champions League proper, and they continued to batter away at the Arsenal defense in the early exchanges, Ba was gifted another chance when Ersun Gulum's beautifully-weighted ball curled into the Senegal man's path. He struck it well on the full volley, but Szczesny was there to make a comfortable save.

The men in red managed to pull themselves back into it soon after, Alexis Sanchez unsurprisingly the focal point. The Chilean stormed past his man and played in Olivier Giroud, but the danger was snuffed out well by Pedro Franco. That was the first sign of life from Arsenal though, and Sanchez was in the thick of it again a few minutes later.

Ramon Motta had a mostly-excellent game for the Kara Kartallar, but he had his pocket picked by Sanchez just outside the penalty area. He found the onrushing Santi Cazorla, who had time and space to pick out the far corner. Sadly, he could only fire wide of the post. The Spaniard arguably should have done better there.

One would hope that such misses are more a function of the side's lack of match fitness more than anything else. Both sides seemed to be in thrall to a lack of sharpness, with sloppy passing and poor touches all over the field. Sanchez made a mockery of that idea though, as he tirelessly harried defenders in the first half. He fashioned a chance out of nothing at the half-hour mark when he stole the ball and played in Giroud. Once again, though, the big man fluffed his lines and the chance was lost.

He did better a few minutes later with a decent effort that Tolga Zengin did well to catch and hold, but it was the home side who should have scored twice, once either side of the interval. The otherwise-excellent Callum Chambers slipped when defending a long ball, allowing Ba the chance to run at the Arsenal goal. He danced past Laurent Koscielny and found some daylight, but he missed wide. 

Shortly after the halftime break, Mathieu Debuchy was caught upfield - and lucky to not see a card for a wild lunge at Veli Kavlak at that. Our old boy Oguzhan Ozyakup took advantage of the confusion with a gorgeous cross-field ball to the left wing. Olcay Sahan was in acres, the space vacated by Debuchy. Koscielny was once again easily evaded, but Sahan let himself down with a poor effort wide of the post.

That proved to be one of the last significant events of the match, as we dialed back the attacking intent somewhat at roughly the same time that Besiktas seemed to decide that perhaps 0-0 wasn't so bad after all. That's  not to say that there was an utter lack of incident, of course. Mathieu Flamini came on and got his customary yellow within six minutes, while Szczesny nullified one last dangerous situation with a strong punch on a corner kick.

It was up to referee Milorad Mazic to provide the biggest talking point of the match, though. He had an interesting strategy of calling nothing in the first half before issuing yellow cards for breathin in the second stanza. Aaron Ramsey, who had an otherwise-quiet match, was victimized by this in the 81st minute. His first yellow for a shirt pull was correct, I'll grant you. But, the second seemed to be for "Being in roughly the same area as Ozyakup as he fell over on his own accord". It was a crap call from a crap referee, but thankfully it didn't cost us in the end.

Actually, we could have nicked it in the end were it not for the excellence of the Turkish keeper. A Besiktas throw-in deep in their own end went to Kavlak, who was far too casual in possession. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, on as a sub for Sanchez, stole the ball and easily juked past Gulum's tame challenge. His curling shot seemed destined for the far corner, but Zengin fingertipped it onto the post at full stretch. What a fabulous can only tip your cap to the man, that was world-class.

So, we had back to London vulnerable to the away goal but also on even terms. It is perhaps more awkward than we'd like, but on the other hand we don't deserve to be in the Champions League if we can't beat this lot at home. I think we'll do it, for the record.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Monreal 7, Koscielny 6, Chambers 7, Debuchy 7, Arteta 7 (Flamini 7), Wilshere 7, Cazorla 6 (Rosicky N/A), Ramsey 7, Sanchez 8 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Giroud 6

Man of the Match: He may have gone off the boil somewhat in the second half, but Alexis Sanchez was clearly the best player on the field.