Belfast Telegraph

Monday 2 March 2015

Arsenal given fright but Sanchez goal redeems them

Money shot: Alexis Sanchez (third right) beats Besiktas goalkeeper Tolga Zengin for the goal that secured Arsenal’s place in the Champions League group stages
Money shot: Alexis Sanchez (third right) beats Besiktas goalkeeper Tolga Zengin for the goal that secured Arsenal’s place in the Champions League group stages

It would be a lot simpler if Arsenal could finish in the Premier League's top three and not have to go through this anxiety before taking their place in the Champions League group stages – but they do like to do things the hard way.

This was an August Champions League qualifier fraught with nerves, much more agonising than last season's 5-0 aggregate win over Fenerbahce. This time Besiktas proved a much more obdurate opponent but the 10 men of Arsenal finished the job and, for the 17th year in a row, are in the Champions League group stages.

Over 180 minutes however, it was just Alexis Sanchez's goal that separated the sides. There should have been many more for Arsenal and, with or without the injured Olivier Giroud, that will be a concern for Arsene Wenger. His side failed to kill off opponents who fought admirably to the very end.

There was another red card for Arsenal, this time for Mathieu Debuchy which meant that the last few minutes of the game belonged to Besiktas. Demba Ba, the Besiktas striker, leapt at the back post with two minutes remaining but failed to get a solid touch on the ball.

Yet, for all the agony, Arsenal are there in today's draw and amid the tension there were some bright points.

There was a good performance from Jack Wilshere, the architect of the Sanchez goal and no shortage of spirit.

Wenger opted for Sanchez at centre-forward and the Chilean had to wait until almost the last kick of the half for his chance, and when it dropped his finish was magnificent.

Debuchy's driving run down the right started the attack and when the ball eventually fell to Wilshere, he sidestepped his opponent and dinked a ball through to Mesut Ozil.

No sooner had the ball left his boot that Wilshere set off in pursuit of the return which was sent back with the requisite weight and speed.

However, it was Sanchez who was better placed, and the striker hit the ball first time, with the inside of his right foot past goalkeeper Tolga Zengin.

A moment of relief for the Emirates crowd who had watched anxiously as, just minutes earlier, Besiktas had a penalty appeal rejected.

The only other opportunity of the first half fell to Santi Cazorla who had a brief sight of goal when goalkeeper Zengin made a mess of a clearance.

More penalty box ingenuity from Wilshere in the second half had permitted Sanchez to get off in a shot on goal on 52 minutes but Zengin managed to pushed it wide.

There was a back post header from Debuchy who should have done better.

There was a warning after the hour when Arsenal conceded the ball in their own area and it ricocheted to Ba. He turned and unleashed a shot that hit the side-netting.

Really, the game should have been over on 74 minutes when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain directed his shot straight at Zengin. After that it became much more anxious, starting with Debuchy's second yellow for a clumsy arm thrust across the chest of Pektemek.

With the right-back sent off, Wenger sent on Calum Chambers for Ozil.

The end of the game proved a torment for the home fans but they need not have worried in the end. Arsenal had done just enough. The question now for Wenger in the last dog days of the transfer window is: can they do more?

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