Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Under-fire Arsenal reply to critics in style with win over Fenerbahce

Gunners cruise towards Champions League's group phase

Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger

Fenerbahce 0 Arsenal 3: The Gunners produced a performance blending maturity with style and resilience to put themselves on the brink of the Champions League proper courtesy of goals from Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud.

A first-half injury to Laurent Koscielny should serve as a reminder to Wenger, if one were needed, that his squad require further additions before the transfer window closes but that process should be easier with passage into Europe's premier competition all but assured.

 

Fenerbahce, attempting to reach the group stage for the first time since 2008, were inexplicably subdued given their ferocious support, and on this evidence only a total catastrophe will deny Arsenal their 16th consecutive appearance in the group stage.

 

Arsenal arrived here in Istanbul with their pride dented and their talent questioned. This was a hugely satisfying response. Wenger bristled at suggestions on Tuesday that his squad were in danger of being left behind by rivals who have already played their hand in the market and here was evidence to support his view there is a promising nucleus, even with several players unavailable.

 

Either because of the seemingly bottomless faith in his players or because of an embarrassing lack of alternatives, Wenger made just one change to the team that lost to Aston Villa last weekend and that was enforced.

 

Santi Cazorla would probably have started this match in any case, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's knee injury meant the Spaniard was handed the chance to prove he had shaken off the jet-lag following international duty.

 

Several Arsenal players took to Twitter throughout the day to post pictures of Fenerbahce fans setting off flares and fireworks outside their hotel during the night and the ground was equally inhospitable: the intimidating atmosphere at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium has a well-earned reputation.

 

Around 50,000 fervent supporters greeted every Arsenal touch from the outset with deafening whistles of derision – the Gunners' travelling support of 400 never stood a chance.

 

On their last visit here – a 5-2 victory in October 2008 – Arsenal raced into a 3-1 lead inside 21 minutes but this time they looked to ease their way into proceedings with a more considered approach. The Gunners settled into a nice rhythm as Fenerbahce struggled to find any cohesion in their passing.

 

However, Arsenal also created little of note. In one frantic passage of play midway through the half Cazorla nearly slid in Theo Walcott. Goalkeeper Volkan Demirel intervened but Tomas Rosicky latched on to the loose ball and delivered a cross which Giroud headed wide.

 

The first half's contentious moment came after 30 minutes when Pierre Webo attempted to meet a high ball only to kick Koscielny in the face. The Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi deemed it worthy of only a yellow card but Wenger was incensed, remonstrating furiously as Koscielny received treatment. He was later taken to hospital. Carl Jenkinson came on and Bacary Sagna was shifted to centre-back.

 

Fenerbahce began the second period with more intent but it was the visitors who made the breakthrough six minutes after the restart. Ramsey fed Walcott, who had stolen in behind full-back Michal Kadlec and found space inside the area. The winger squared the ball to the back post, where Gibbs stabbed it into the roof of the net.

 

Gibbs then fed Wilshere and he surged forward to find Walcott, who was unable to escape the attentions of the Fenerbahce rearguard as he bundled the ball goalwards. Wojciech Szczesny was brave to dive at the feet of Moussa Sow before Wilshere forced Demirel into a save at the other end.

 

Fenerbahce were beginning to look somewhat jaded and Ramsey capped a fine performance with the second goal, driving forward unchallenged before beating Demirel, too easily it must be said, from 20 yards.

 

Kadlec had struggled against Walcott's pace all evening and he was pleading for mercy when hauling the England international to the ground inside the area but a penalty was the correct decision. Giroud converted confidently to put a spring in Arsenal's step and a knowing smile on Wenger's face once again.

 

Fenerbahce: Demirel, Irtegun, Yobo, Bruno Alves, Kadlec, Topal,  Meireles, Emre, Sow, Webo, Kuyt.

 

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs,  Rosicky, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Giroud, Walcott.

 

Man of match Ramsey.

 

Match rating 8/10.

 

Referee G Rocchi (Florence).

 

Attendance 50,500.

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