Well, that was fun!
Arsenal picked up a precious three points thanks to the combination of a scintillating attacking performance and a Galatasaray side set up tactically in a way that could not have allowed us more time and space on the wings to eviscerate them at our leisure.
Cesare Prandelli, in his golden parachute job from one of the worst Italian World Cup performances in recent memory, set up his lot in a 3-5-2 with the wingbacks/wingers both pressed suicidally high up the pitch. I imagine the idea was to pin our wide forwards back, but it didn't take the overlapping fullbacks into account. Essentially, each wing had a 2-on-1 man advantage for us, and our guys gleefully took advantage throughout the match. Also, it served to neutralize their own best aspects - Wesley Sneijder in the middle with Goran Pandev and Buruk Yilmaz up top. Excellent players all, but where was the service going to come from?
As for us, we played the best possible XI we could given our injury crisis - Mesut Ozil in the hole, Alexis Sanchez our left, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out right. Interestingly, Santi Cazorla was central as a sort of deep-lying playmaker. It worked to perfection, as his intelligent passing was key to several of our attacking moves from back there.
The warning signs for the visitors were there as early as the first minute, as wingback Alex Telles got caught well up the field after he crossed to no one in particular. That left the Ox with acres, but he came in central for no reason and it gets snuffed out. We had a few more gaps to take advantage of in the early going, but they did adjust by the 15-minute mark and started to sit deeper.
All that meant was that we had even more of the ball than we did previously, and there was still the man advantage on the wings. It was only a matter of time, and sure enough we took the lead in the 22nd minute. Sanchez had all of the time he wanted on the wing, then skinned Aurelien Chedjou for good measure. His perfectly-weighted pass sprung Danny Welbeck, who in turn skinned Felipe Melo. Fernando Muslera, the Uruguay goalkeeper (who had a horrendous World Cup, for the record) came out and cut off the angle, meaning that Welbeck could pretty much only try for the nutmeg. Thankfully for us, Muslera left that option wide open, and Welbeck duly took advantage. Horrendous keeping, but I'll take it.
There was no remorse from the men in red after the goal, the Arsenal not giving their overmatched defense a second to breathe. An innocuous goal kick from Muslera was won by Flamini just past midfield, and Chedjou continued his awful night by heading it backwards right into the path of Welbeck. Melo played him onside, Muslera was caught in no-man's land, and then managed to dive out of the way of the shot. Terrible keeping again, but a calm and collected finish by our man.
Galatasaray were all over the shop, and Welbeck could have had his hat trick a few minutes later when he was left unattended at the top of the box after a nice cutback from Callum Chambers. Sadly, he lamped one into the grateful arms of the keeper. Up the other end, Pandev did a nice job ghosting through the space left between the center-halves, but his shot was poor and easily saved.
I wonder what may have been had the referee not been an inconsistent moron. Lenient throughout the match, he for some reason only showed yellow on Melo's wild two-footed lunge on Sanchez. Lucky boy, that lad...and lucky for his side as well. We may have had double digits if we got to play against 10 men for that long.
That's not to say that the goals still weren't flowing against 11, though. Ozil may have extended the lead when he found space at the top of the box, but his first touch let him down. Alexis' did not though, just a minute later. Per Mertesacker intercepted an ambitious through-ball attempt, and off we went. He was able to play a longish pass right up the gut to Ox, and in turn to Ozil, whose pass to Sanchez left the Gala defense in tatters. Sanchez beat the three center halves, who were all bunched together. Chedjou recovered enough to challenge, but Sanchez skipped around it and finished with aplomb. Muslera still might have saved it though.
The visitors came back out from the halftime break having switched to 4-3-3, belatedly shutting up shop somewhat. Hilariously though, we still scythed through them even after they got their tactics right. Sanchez nutmegged Telles and was in the clear. He played in Welbeck, Muslera was glacially slow off his line, and the inevitable fourth went in.
Needless to say, the Arsenal took their collective foot off the pedal somewhat once it got to 4-0, perhaps with one eye on the Chavs game at the weekend. Galatasaray started to attack more, and their first one of any consequence ended in disaster for us. Pandev slipped a pass through the center-halves to Yilmaz, who was in alone. Wojciech Szczesny came off his line and was half a second away from getting there. Honestly, I don't think it was the wrong decision - he was just that little bit slow, and Yilmaz was very clever to toe-poke the ball away from himself right before the contact happened. I've seen yellows given for those, and it's kind of galling that this idiot referee showed red there and yellow when Melo almost bisected Sanchez's leg in the first half.
Anyway, David Ospina came on, and his first action was to pick the ball out of his net after Yilmaz sent him the wrong way on the resulting penalty.
Unsurprisingly, the visitors grew into the game once they had the man advantage, and they tested Ospina on several occasions. First, he absolutely robbed Yilmaz when the Turkish forward had a free header off of Umut Bulut's cross. He then saved well with his shin on Hamit Altintop's close-in effort, and then he did even better to claw out a low rasper from Sneijder.
That's not to say that we had entirely given up the ghost, though. Welbeck headed over when he probably should have left it for the unmarked substitute Tomas Rosicky on the back post, and then right at the end Cazorla almost got the goal his all-action performance deserved. Jack Wilshere played a gorgeous chip over the static back line, but the Spaniard's first touch failed him a bit. Muslera got a piece of it with his dive at Cazorla's feet, giving Semih Kaya time to clear off the line.
While it would have been awesome to stick a fifth past these flare-throwing, pitch-invading assholes, you have to say that the job was emphatically done by our boys today. Assuming that we do the business in both ends against Anderlecht (anything less will be frankly unacceptable), we should be safely in the second round of the tournament - whatever happens at their gaff on the last match day.
That said, Chelski is going to be a much different proposition. They won't set themselves up so naively, and they will ruthlessly punish any mistakes. Despite today's excellent performance, I'm not so sure that we're in a position to get anything out of that game. I hope I'm wrong.
The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:
Szczesny 5, Gibbs 8, Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 8, Chambers 8, Flamini 7, Cazorla 9, Sanchez 9 (Ospina 8), Ozil 8 (Wilshere 7), Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Rosicky 7), Welbeck 10.
Man of the Match: There won't be an easier one all season. Danny Welbeck, the hat trick hero.