An engrossing game and a dicey scoreline for Arsenal, who would have been a lot more sanguine about the second leg if Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fine run and shot late on had not been foiled by Tolga Zengin. There were some good performance from Arsenal - all the defenders, plus Sanchez and Wilshere - but Besiktas showed that they have dangerous players too and could nab an away goal at the Emirates. Ba, Oguzhan and Ersan were all impressive. Ramsey will be out of that match, of course, but Ozil and the other Germans should be back. And Oxlade-Chamberlain deserves more starts pronto.
90+3 min: The Serbia ref is sending the Turkish club’s Croatian manager, Bilic, to the stands for persistent whingeing. The latest outburst was prompted by the non-award of a freekick.
90+2 min: Excellent block by Koscielny after Frei leads an attack by the home side, who are desperate for a lead to take to London.
90+1 min: Debuchy hurtles down the right and clips in a good cross. Giroud fouls the defender while trying to collect it.
Arsenal substitution: Cazorla off, Rosicky on. Four minutes to be added on.
89 min: Arsenal nearly nick it! Oxlade-Chamberlain pounced on a mistake by Kavlak and wriggled his way into the box before unleashing a fine shot from 13 yards. The keeper does brilliantly to touch it on to the post! And the rebound is eventually hacked away!
Besiktas substitution: Pektemek off, Cenk Tosum on.
87 min: Szczesny intercepts a threatening cross from Gokhan.
86 min: Arsenal corner: The Ox delivers, Chambers and Giroud fail to connect.
84 min: By the way, Besiktas have just introduced Kerim Frei, formerly a promising, unfulfilled talent at Fulham.
82 min: Wenger’s reaction to Ramsey dismissal suggested he thought the decision was wrong, but Ramsey intent was felonious even if the tug might not have been sufficient to bring the player down. Ramsey the person to be having words with there.
It’s a second yellow card for the Welshman, who tugged back Oguzhan after losing possession on half-way. It was an instinctive, not particularly forceful pull and not the sort of thing you want to be doing when already booked.
80 min: Good effort, good save! Cazorla fires a low shot towards the centre of the goal. It bounces awkwardly in front of the keeper, who does well to stop it at the second attempt.
79 min: Freekick to Arsenal in a promising position, two yards outside the box, a little to the left. Cazorla’s drooling ...
77 min: Cazorla scurries across the edge of the Besiktas area, looking for an opening. None emerges so he keeps the ball and recycyles it. Arsenal astutely work an opportunity for Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose blockbuster from 20 yards is thwarted by Ersan, who threw himself in front of it like a bodyguard protecting his president.
74 min: A flare-up between Flamini and Pektemek after Motta shoves Ramsey. Nowt to get excited about. “Paul, a question all the way from Charlottesville, Virginia: any idea why Arsenal are wearing black armbands?” asks Laurence Holland. “The usual font of wisdom (ahem, Twitter) hasn’t been of any use.” I assume it’s for the same reason that Besiktas are wearing all black, i.e., as mentioned earlier, a sign of respect for the Turkish club’s former chairman, Süleyman Seba, who died this week.
Besiktas substitution: Olcay off, Tore on.
Arsenal substitution: Sanchez off, Oxlade-Chamberlain on.
71 min: A dinky pass by Wilshere to Ramsey, who takes it nicely on his chest but is crowded out at the edge of the Turkish area. This game could still go either way.
70 min: Oguzhan curls in a corner. Szczesny punches it to the edge of the area, where Ersan collects. The midfielder wallops the ball wide.
67 min: Arsenal build a bit of momentum in opposition territory for the first time in a while. And then Sanchez unhinges the defence with a smart ball to the overlapping Debuchy. The full-backs pulls as low ball back to Giroud, whose shot is blocked before Besiktas whack it clear.
64 min: Yellow card for Monreal for a late tackle on Pektemek after an unhelpful pass from Wilshere put Koscielny in trouble. “This is wild,” emails Les Francis. And that’s all. Would anyone like to hazard a guess what he’s up to at the moment?
62 min: “In case you missed it, Ramsey got a yellow for a needless tug on the shirt of some Besiktas player or other scurrying past him.” OF course I didn’t miss it, Mike MacKenzie, I just, er, wanted to give you some airtime.
62 min: Arsenal are being pressed back, their midfield dropping deeper and leaving Giroud all on his lonesome. Sanchez tries to pick him out with a long ball when Besiktas attack breaks down but the Frenchman loses out to two defenders.
60 min: Ismail pootles down the right, then darts inside and wafts a weak shot at goal from 25 yards. Szczesny does his job.
58 min: My words not doing it for you? Salve your eyes here.
56 min: Sanchez’s work-rate is exemplary: not for him the notion that wingers only need to go one way. If, say, Hatem Ben Arfa had that attitude he, too, might be playing in the Champions League.
54 min: Flamini booked for a foul on half-way. I can’ tell you any more than that because the camera didn’t catch it.
51 min: Nimble passing in the Arsenal box as Besiktas continue their quest for a first-leg lead. Chambers makes another telling intervention and suddenly Arsenal are ripping forward. Motta sees the danger and cynically brings down Sanchesz on half-way. His comeuppance is a yellow card.
49 min: A word of praise for the Serbia referee here: he’s allowing play to proceed at an exhilarating pace by recognising good wholesome physical challenges for what they are. This was a trend that started at the World Cup and indicates a long overdue return to good sense. Um, having said that, Arteta is now hobbling off to be replaced by Flamini seemingly after being hurt in a challenge. Not a malicious one, mind.
48 min: Oooooh! A real let-off for Arsenal as a period opf frantaic attacking by both sides culminates with Olcay cutting inside Koscielny and curling a shot inches wide from 15 yard! I think a bobble on the pitch actually helped Arsenal there as it prevented Olcay from getting a shot off earlier.
47 min: An error at the back presents the ball to Giroud, who threads a pass through to Ramsey. The Welshman could shoot from 18 yards ... but instead he takes a touch and tries to go around the last defender and he loses the ball.
46 min: Off we go again. Arsenal decide against emulating Ba and shooting from kick-off, the conservative bores.
“It’s my understanding, however limited that may be, that Alexis will play upfront once Walcott comes back,” intones Michael Johnson.
Here are some of the most interesting latest scores from around the place:
Copenhagen 2-3 Leverkusen
Napoli 0-1 Atl. Bilbao
Birmingham 1-0 Ipswich
Leeds 0-1 Brighton
Reading 0-2 Huddersfield
Coventry 2-2 Barnsley
Pompey 2-0 Northampton
Peterbro 1-1 Sheff Utd
You can admire a full list here.
“Maybe it’s just me here, but the speed and quality of Alexis Sanchez has really only served to highlight that Giroud is, well, lacking in both those departments,” reckons Emmanuel Salorio. “A combo of Giroud as starter and Sanogo as his replacement does not bode well for Arsenal’s chances up top.” It’s a fair comment. Ba would have been a decent acquisition. Rémy would do well for Arsenal too, fitness permitting. Heck, this would be a good time to give Campbell a chance.
It’s been a highly engaging game so far with some fine performances (notably Chambers, Ba and Kavlak) and there’s been a near continuous threat of goals. But no actual goals yet. Can’t see this finishing 0-0 though.
44 min: A lovely dinked pass by Ramsey to Giroud, who yet again fails to apply a sure touch. The chance dies of neglect.
42 min: The hitherto immaculate Chambers goofs, knocking the ball to Ba, who has also been immaculate so far ... but he too goofs, firing low and just wide from 10 yards! A real reprieve for Arsenal.
40 min: Uncertain defending by Arsenal before the ball lands at the feet of Necip. He aims a low shot at goal from 25 yards, ensuring it bounces just in front of Szczesny, but the keeper holds well. There could easily have lead to a goal like this one (go to 1:27 ... and sorry, Villa fans).
39 min: Better from Wilshere. He darts towards the area, exchanges passes with Giroud, and then sends a curling, Liam Brady-esque shot towards the top corner. Zengin hurls himself across the goal to make a fine save.
37 min: For the first time in a while, Arsenal go forward with menace. or rather, Sanchez does: when he pinged in his cross from the right, there were no team-mates there to challenge for it.
34 min: Another excellent tackle by Chambers, this time to bring an end to a threatening run by Ba. The 19-year-old is showing marvelous temperament here, on top of his footballing skills.
32 min: Ba, by the way, is looking very dangerous. His movement is shrewd and his touch sure, which is more than you can of Giroud so far. I always felt the Senegalese got a raw deal at Chelsea: definitely warranted more playing time given the woes of Torres and, to a lesser extent, Eto’o.
31 min: More fine play by Besiktas, who are posing Arsenal plenty of problems. Szczesny has to show strong hands to hold a 20-yard drive from Kavlak.
29 min: Danger for Arsenal! A sly low ball from the right by Kavlak nearly came to Pektemek at the edge of the six-yard box, but the forward went down under a challenge from Chambers! The crowd demand a penalty, the ref waves play on. I’d like to see a replay of that but my first impression was that’s a good decision, there seemingly not having been enough contact from Chambers to justify the fall.
28 min: The Besiktas choir are creating a wonderful, melodious brute of an atmosphere. Match that, “singing sections” of England.
26 min: Ramsey digs out a decent cross from the right to the back post. Motta puts it behind for a corner rather than let it drop to Sanchez, which is reasoning you can’t argue with. The corner comes to nought.
24 min: Good play by Wilshere and Chambers to play their way out of trouble despite feverish pressing from the hosts. Two English players there, and all.
23 min: The game remains finely poised, both sides bristling with menace. Especially Besiktas at the moment, as they have a corner ...
21 min: After Monreal wins the ball off Pektemek, Arsenal get an attack going and Besiktas look vulnerable. But Giroud lets them off the hook by treading on the ball to sap the momentum from the attack! “Not sure what Wilshire is looking so glum about in that photos,” toots Ian Copestake. “Unless they just announced that this is a non-smoking flight.”
20 min: For those of you wishing to know the latest scores from other Champions League play-offs: Copenhagen are 2-1 up on Leverkusen, and Salzburg area leading Malmo 1-0. For those of you not wishing to know the latest scores, oops!
18 min: A foxy turn by Ramsey in midfield allows Arsenal to instigate another attack, but it fritters out when Monreal donks an aimless cross into the box.
16 min: Giroud gets his nut to Sanchez’s out-swinging corner but he was falling away from goal and could not apply sufficient power or direction to trouble the keeper.
15 min: Another searing run by Sanchez down the right. He broke from midfield after Giroud won possession, and then skedaddled past three opponents before winning a corner.
13 min: Sanchez pilfers the ball off Motta at the edge of the Besiktas area. He then works the ball in to Cazorla, who dashes into the area and flashes a shot a couple of yards wide from a difficult angle.
10 min: This is fun! Arsenal tear forward on the counter-attach, Sanchez hurtling down the left and firing a low ball into Giroud and the near post. The Frenchman controls and tries to spin and get his shot away. His effort is half-blocked by the defender and loops up into the air. Defenders scramble to stop it crossing the line!
9 min: A lovely floated pass from Ersan finds Ba, who tries to guide a volley into the top corner from 15 yards. Szczesny has to fling himself across goal to claw it away!
8 min: A good, diving defensive header from Chambers clears a dangerous-looking cross from the left.
7 min: Either there’s a freakishly fierce wind blowing through Istanbul right now or Besiktas fans are whistling furiously whenever Arsenal start trying to piece passes together.
5 min: Sanches shunted off the ball fairly by Ozyakup as Arsenal try to infiltrate the home box for the first time. Besiktas launch another attack, popping the ball about ominously...
3 min: Szczesny charges off his line to intercept a throughball. He then rolls it out and Arsenal begin knocking the wall around at the back, so far unhindered by the bobbly pitch about which Wenger complained before kick-off.
1 min: What a start! Besiktas’s Ba has a shot straight from kick off and it almost catches Szczesny out! The keeper scrambled backwards and just managed to paw it out - or did it hit the bar? A bit of both, the replay confirms! Superb effort. Let’s hope that an indication of the attacking intent to come. I say that not out of any anti-Arsenal sentiment, just in the interests of a good watch.
The atmosphere in the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul looks wonderful. Tremendous noise and sea of black, red and white flags. Besiktas, you should now, where wearing all black as a tribute to their former chairman Süleyman Seba, who died this week.
“You folks noted that Arsene Wenger made a point about how this game would entail a battle against fatigue,” mulls Joe Christoff. “Well of course it will if he refuses to play Rosicky, Campbell, the Ox, Flamini, or even Bellerin (the new fastest man at the club) and instead keeps everyone he can from the team that played on Saturday. What’s the point of having depth if one won’t use it? Of course I’m a helpless Rosicky fan but still.” It’s a fair point. But perhaps the idea is to kill the tie off here and rest Ramsey & Co for the second leg? Ramsey could do with a rest, you imagine, having played both in the Emirates Cup thing too.
Regarding those Arsenal tracksuits, I think I know what may have inspired them ...
Slaven Bilic gives it the big build-up:
We are not here to take selfies with Arsenal on the pitch, we are here to battle to the end. Don’t expect our players to take selfies with Alexis Sanchez and Arteta, we believe we can qualify and will do everything we can to make it happen. We know who we are playing very well, Arsenal may be favourites however, this doesn’t mean we are going to lay down and roll over.
“I think the threshold questions are what the heck is that hideous blue color of those tracksuits?” stormes Damian Durrant. “And which demented soul in the Arsenalocracy approved them, and in the name of all that is decent, should any team be allowed to advance wearing such a disaster?” Perhaps you would prefer something like this?
“Evening Paul,” burbles Arthur Hollins. “Thanks for highlighting the the forgotten talents of flint knappers. I would liked to have been one of those back in the day, but instead I’m in 2014 and working as a telephone assistant. What should I do?” Hmm, place the person trying to get through to you on hold for another 90 minutes while you finish following the match? Failing that, perhaps you could retrain as schrimpschonger. Not sure there’s much demand for them these days but it sounds fun.
Besiktas: Zengin, Koybasi, Franco, Gulum, Ramon Motta, Uysal,
Pektemek, Ozyakup, Kavlak, Sahan, Ba.
Subs: Gonen, Kurtulus, Sivok, Tore, Koyunlu, Tosun, Boral.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy, Chambers, Koscielny, Monreal,
Arteta, Wilshere, Sanchez, Ramsey, Cazorla, Giroud.
Subs: Martinez, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Flamini, Campbell, Bellerin, Miquel.
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia)
Tonight Arsenal begin their attempt to reach the Champions League group stages for the 15th time in a row and, ultimately, to rid themselves of their reputation as the footballing equivalent of the guy who earns admission into university and then chooses to study something totally useless, such as cartomancy or
sports journalism flint knappery. Just what is the point?
Except, of course, there is a point, as qualification generates lots of money and increases the chances of qualifying again next year, enacting a cycle of enrichment that preserves the elite and stifles domestic competition. Result! But Arsene Wenger insists there is actually another point and that Arsenal are intent on winning the tournament one day pretty soon, just to brighten up the foreground of all those triumphant selfies. And why not even this season? Well, Besiktas fancy giving a compelling answer to that tonight.
Slaven Bilic’s side may not have begun their domestic season yet but they reached this round by tonking Feyenoord 5-2 thanks in part to a debut hat-trick from Demba Ba and they are confident of making Arsenal’s life uncomfortable. But then again, so were Dinamo Zagreb, Sparta Prague, FC Twente, Celtic and Fenerbahce in previous Champions League play-offs and they all failed. So this season we are going to witness history: either Arsenal are going to lose a play-off or they are going to win the competition. Or, just maybe, they’re going to do the same thing that they nearly always do and advance to the prestigious stages before leaving with a sense of unfulfilment, and vast wealth. Finding out which promises to be incurably intriguing.