x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Arsenal give Wenger a boost with Fenerbahce victory

Gibbs, Ramsey and Giroud penalty give London side 3-0 win in first leg of Uefa Champions League qualifier in Turkey, reports Jonathan Wilson.

Olivier Giroud, right, scored Arsenal's third goal.
Olivier Giroud, right, scored Arsenal's third goal.

FENERBAHCE 0

ARSENAL 3

Gibbs 51’, Ramsey 64’, Giroud 77’ (pen)

Man of the match

Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)

One win will not relieve the pressure on manager Arsene Wenger and Arsenal, but a comfortable victory on the road against Fenerbahce all but ensures progress to the group stage of the Uefa Champions League, and for the time being at least, relieves the sense of impending crisis at the Emirates.

Before anybody gets too excited, though, it should be said that Arsenal could hardly have dreamt of a gentler game.

Fenerbahce were dismal. After Saturday’s loss to Aston Villa, the booing around the Emirates and the widespread criticism of both the team’s character and their transfer policy, it night have been expected that Fenerbahce, supported by a ferocious crowd, would look to rattle Arsenal early and try to exploit any potential vulnerability.

As it was, though, they seemed weirdly timorous, with the midfielder Mehmet Topal dropping so deep he at times played almost as a third central defender.

Perhaps Fenerbahce were distracted by their own problems, which perhaps puts Arsenal’s woes into some sort of perspective.

They have already been banned from the Champions League by Uefa after being found guilty of match-fixing and are still competing only because their appeal against the expulsion is still being heard by the Court of Arbitration in Sport.

A verdict is expected next week – which could give Arsenal a lifeline and a sixteenth straight Champions League qualification even if they contrive to lose the play-off, which is an unlikely scenario.

Whatever the reason, Fenerbahce’s passing was dismal in the early stages, allowing Arsenal to dominate possession, playing the bulk of the game in the home team’s half. The only cause for concern was Arsenal’s lack of cutting edge since the sale of Robin van Persie; they had, after all, found themselves in a similar position against Villa on Saturday – and been 1-0 up – before self-destructing at the first sign of a setback.

And then, just after the half-hour, came what has ill-fortune that has almost come to be expected for Arsenal. Pierre Webo raised a boot in challenging for a bouncing ball and caught Laurent Koscielny, leaving him with a deep cut that meant he had to be replaced. With Thomas Vermaelen injured, Sebastian Squillaci released and Johan Djourou and Miguel out on loan, that left the full-back Carl Jenkinson to come on with Bacary Sagna switching to the centre as a makeshift partner for Per Mertesacker.

And there, in a snapshot, was Arsenal’s major problem: however good a putative first team may be if they were ever all fit at the same time – and the persistence of the injuries suggests an underlying problem at the club – there simply isn’t sufficient depth in the squad.

Still, Arsenal were much the better side on Wednesday night and, essentially unthreatened, strolled through the game, clearly superior.

Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey were exposed at the back of midfield by Aston Villa on Saturday, but such was Fenerbahce’s lack of adventure that they were able to focus on the attacking side of the game.

They combined six minutes into the second half, with Ramsey holding possession intelligently before laying in Theo Walcott, who squared for Kieran Gibbs to slam in at the back post. The fact that a left-back was arriving the six-yard box indication of how comfortable Arsenal felt pushing into opposition territory.

Wilshere then laid on a chance for Walcott and had an effort himself saved by Volkan Demirol before laying on the second for Ramsey, who surged diagonally across the pitch before driving in a low shot.

Olivier Giroud banged in the third from the penalty spot after Walcott had been bundled over by Michal Kadlec to complete an emphatic victory.

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