Arsenal survives an off night against Besiktas
Besiktas 0-0 Arsenal
There are better ways to ease your way into the season than by playing 90 draining minutes away in Istanbul, under the heavy pressure of a fervent crowd and an incisive opposition, and coming away with bookings, knocks, and a red card.
But Arsenal came away with a clean sheet too, and while Arsene Wenger might well worry about what this means for Saturday's trip to Everton, he should be confident about beating Besiktas at home next week and, more to the point, proud of his players.
Arsenal showed impressive character here to contain Slaven Bilic's brisk, feisty, dangerous side. Wojciech Szczesny made some good saves – one after just six seconds, while Calum Chambers, on his Champions League debut, was almost flawless in his shackling of Demba Ba.
The midfield, often over-worked, fought ferociously and had to do even more after Aaron Ramsey's dismissal with 10 minutes left.
There might even be a tinge of frustration, amid the pride, that Arsenal did not score the away goal that would have almost confirmed their passage into the group stage before next week.
Alexis Sanchez was thrilling on the counter-attack throughout, but is still cajoling his team-mates towards his wavelength, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came closer than anyone when he hit the post in the dying moments.
Besiktas were the more dangerous side but they will also be the more disappointed. They come back to the Emirates next Wednesday, and the omens are not in their favour.
Arsenal have become rather adept at overcoming these early-season hurdles; a reward, of sorts, for specialising in fourth place.
They had won all 12 matches before last night, and few of them were ever in doubt. Last year, they also came to Istanbul, to play Fenerbahce at the Sukru Saracoglu stadium, and won 3-0.
This was a different setting, not boxed-in, in central Istanbul, but out of town at the windy, spacious Olympic Stadium, best known for hosting Liverpool's 2005 Champions League final victory.
Arsenal hoped to subdue the atmosphere early on but in fact the opposite happened: Ba spotted Szczesny off his line from kick-off and shot, forcing a desperate backward scramble to prevent an opener after just six seconds.
That ignited the home support – the Besiktas fans have already taken Ba to heart – and Arsenal were immediately pinned in by waves of noise and waves of attack. Besiktas played brisk, intricate football, threatening to slice Arsenal open.
At this point it must have come as a relief to Wenger that he picked his strongest side, rather than preserving legs for Saturday's trip to Goodison Park.
Chambers, already looking like a senior centre-back in just his third performance, handled Ba well for the most part. The former Chelsea striker got free to shoot twice in the first half; the first time, Szczesny dived to his left to save the volley, the second, just before the break, Ba skewed wide.
Digging in at one end, with just enough success, Arsenal tried to play on the counter-attack. The arrival of Sanchez – their quickest, strongest and bravest player – has transformed their ability to do this, and he made three early openings for his team-mates.
Olivier Giroud missed two, Santi Cazorla the other. Just before the break, Jack Wilshere forced Tolga Zengin into a diving save while Giroud, in the last action of a hectic first period, failed to connect with a shot when through on goal.
Within two minutes of the restart, their good work was nearly undermined when Olcay darted in behind Mathieu Debuchy, opened his body up and curled a shot just beyond Szczesny's far post.
Mikel Arteta, so important at balancing the Arsenal team defensively, was forced off for Mathieu Flamini, who was, not entirely uncharacteristically, booked within five minutes of coming on. Arsenal were under pressure again.
Once more, it was the new boys who were impressing the most in their ability to handle it. Sanchez has played many Champions League games before but Chambers has not, but they were both impressive in their ability to cope with the relentless ferocity of both the Besiktas players and the atmosphere itself.
Nacho Monreal followed Flamini into the book, for a late tackle on Pektemek, after two short passes from Wilshere and Laurent Koscielny had set up a Besiktas counter-attack.
Arsenal scurried and scampered and fouled to stay in the game, Wilshere almost knocking Pektemek onto the running track, much to his displeasure.
This was becoming a drain on their legs, ahead of Saturday's trip to Everton. There were flickers of openings on the break, but they never quite materialised into chances; Wilshere nearly set up Ramsey. Sanchez nearly set up Giroud.
The problem, with 10 minutes left, was that the necessary fouls had added up and Ramsey's tug on Ozyakup, bounding away from him, was his second bookable offence and saw him dismissed. Survival was the only priority, Wenger switched to 4-4-1.
Besiktas thought that they had Arsenal just where they wanted them. Wenger had thrown on Oxlade-Chamberlain, with not many more options on the bench.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, though, provided the pace and ambition that had drained out of Arsenal's game in the second half.
He nearly scored the crucial away goal, slaloming into the penalty area, beating Zengin with his left-footed shot but hitting the post in the penultimate minute of normal time.
That, in fact, was closer than Besiktas came to scoring in the final minutes.
They were just as worn out, but they needed a goal more, and boss Bilic was sent off in stoppage time for showing his understandable frustration. Wenger will be more relieved, if not relaxed quite yet.