Arsenal brushed aside an admittedly poor Fenerbahce with an accomplished second-half display
Jenkinson has a wallop from distance, Demirel tipping over. And that's the very last act of a superb performance by Arsenal. Crisis? What crisis? These blue shorts seem to be working out a treat.
90 min +2: Some defiant singing from the home crowd. It's a shame for them that their team was rather more accommodating. Arsenal have, however, been excellent tonight. Still the home leg to come, of course, but the job is done.
90 min +1: There will be three added minutes.
90 min: Kuyt flicks the ball on down the middle for Sow, who guides the ball to the right, where Emenike cuts in to thrash a first-time effort towards the top right. Whereupon Szczesny makes another magnificent save, turning the ball round for a corner. The set piece comes to nothing.
88 min: Yobo - who has now lost 11 of 14 games against Arsenal - nearly slices a Cazorla low cross into the top-left corner of his own net. He has the good grace to look sheepish as the ball sails into the stand at unstoppable pace. The corner's cleared, but it makes little difference. This match - indeed, this tie - is over.
87 min: Monreal comes on for Walcott.
85 min: Gonul whips a ball into the Arsenal area from the right. Sow clanks another header off target from ten yards. The home side have been little short of appalling, and yet could easily have had a goal or two if Sow had his radar working properly and sent a couple of these headers on target. A fine result for Arsenal, this, but there's still the suggestion that serious work needs to be done with the defence. Hm. Does anyone think Arsenal should sign someone?
83 min: Szczesny has to make his first meaningful save of the evening. Kuyt, on the penalty spot, guides a clever header down to Kadlec on the left. Kadlec looks to hook one into the bottom right corner, but his shot, on target, is palmed away by the keeper. That's a superb stop.
82 min: Potuk comes on for Meireles.
81 min: Podolski comes on for Giroud, who will be happy with the start to his season. "I guess Sir Alex gave his hairdryer to Arsene as a parting gift, suggests Anthony Paige.
79 min: Fenerbahce have given up. A series of after-you-sir challenges down the left as Rosicky and Ramsey burst into life. The garden-party atmosphere continues as Walcott is given enough time to stew a cup of tea and make a couple of rounds of cucumber sandwiches. He fizzes a low daisycutter towards Demirel, who smothers. Hey, mind the lawn!
Giroud confidently sidefoots into the top left for his second goal of the season. What a performance this has been by Arsenal, who have been thoroughly superb in this second half!
76 min: PENALTY TO ARSENAL! Walcott flies past Kadlec down the inside-right, and is sent crashing to the ground. A no-brainer for the referee.
75 min: Szczesny is booked for timewasting at a goal kick. His face slips into Affronted mode at the flick of a switch.
74 min: Demirel's distribution is awful, and allows Walcott a thrash at goal from a tight angle on the right. The ball just about stays in the stadium. "Apart from the assist, Walcott has been the epitome of vapidity throughout the match," writes Charles Antaki, a hard man to please.
71 min: Sow has finally woken up from his match-long slumber. Sagna gives the striker a bit too much room on the edge of the area, just to the left of goal. The space allows Sow to spin and unleash a venomous shot which only just clears the bar. That wasn't far from the top-left corner. Szczesny probably had it covered, though Arsenal are probably happy they didn't have to find out for sure.
68 min: Fenerbahce's best chance of the match, Meireles curling one in from the right, Sow planting a header just over the bar from ten yards. You'd expect better from the striker, but the flag wheeched up for offside, in any case. "You will be unaware that an anagram of Fenerbahce/Arsenal is A Fans Cheer Enabler," reports Kevin Porter. "The question is why am I aware of it? Have I nothing better to do with my time?" Hey, don't be too hard on yourself. I've just faithfully copy and pasted it into this report, nothing more than a watercarrier of nonsense. Imagine the questions I'm asking myself.
65 min: Sow takes a frustrated thrash from distance and wins a corner down the right, his shot deflected out. The corner comes to nothing. Bruno Alves is booked for a late clatter on Mertesacker.
A determined run by Ramsey, who starts off down the inside-left channel before drifting infield and, 25 yards out, sending a low rasper towards the bottom left. Demirel should turn the ball round the post, but the ball's only palmed into the inside side netting. A fine run, a decent shot, and thoroughly dreadful goalkeeping. Arsenal are surely in the group stage of the Champions League now. Already. 16 years and counting, unless they do something very, very silly.
63 min: Webo is replaced by Emenike.
62 min: A brilliant, bustling, Gascoigne-esque run from Wilshere, who bustles past Meireles down the inside-right and into the area, then burns Bruno Alves before hammering a shot at Demirel at the near post. The keeper parries, and the ball is cleared. Marvellous play from Arsenal's star turn.
61 min: This is mighty scrappy at the moment.
59 min: News of Koscielny's injury, via the man from the Sky satellite service. According to the Arsenal doctor, his cut is "ridiculous" and "horrible", and he's still being stitched up now.
57 min: Walcott is seeing a lot of the ball down the right. He tries to thread a diagonal pass out left to Cazorla, but it's too much of a mathematical puzzle. Yobo hacks clear.
54 min: And this could have been the equaliser. Sow chased after a Webo flick-on, and was inches away from prodding past Szczesny. The Arsenal keeper bravely smothers the effort, though, and takes a FOOT in his FACE for his troubles. Ooyah, oof. Arsenal really have been in the wars tonight. He's soon up and about, though, but once again those were worrying times.
53 min: And this should have been two. Wilshere is bombing towards the home side's box. As he reaches the edge of the area, Walcott takes the ball off his toe and fires two shots straight at Demirel, who finally parries clear.
They've piped down alright now! Ramsey, on the right-hand edge of the D, slides a delicious pass down the inside-right channel to release Walcott, who fires a low ball through the six-yard area. Gibbs, rushing in unmarked at the far post, sidefoots home confidently to give Arsenal a deserved lead! Cue the sound of silence. An eerie Sukru Saracoglu.
49 min: Ramsey faffs around in the middle of his own half, and is sent unceremoniously crashing to the turf by Topal. The ball breaks to Kuyt, who makes good down the inside-right channel and sends a rising drive inches over the bar. Szczesny had that covered, but it's the closest Fenerbahce have come to breaking the deadlock. Arsenal will be happy that, a reaction to Kuyt's effort apart, the crowd are piping down a bit.
48 min: Rosicky busies himself down the right and wins the first corner of the half. The ball's aimed at Mertesacker, coming in at the far post, but that's no use at all. "Maybe i've been in yankee land too long but what exactly is a boot to the coupon?" wonders Alan Byrne. "I tried googling it and got a whole lot of tosh about coupon clipping and other nonsense involving cheap shoes." A kick in the face, Alan. Sorry. I should probably remember that there are actual people out there reading this.
And we're off again! A mixed bag for Arsenal, that first half. They were the dominant team, but created next to nowt. Which may explain why their fans don't quite know which way to turn. "I watched better collective play in last year's Uefa Cup," writes Anthony Paige. "We're poor. From The Invincibles to The Indescribables." But Kaustubh Mone is looking on the bright side: "Not too bad then from Arsenal eh? Also, their weekend vanquishers Villa are 1-1 at HT at Stamford Bridge, i.e. at least they seem to have lost to a decent team after all." Anyway, Fenerbahce get the round thing moving for the second period. They've made one change: Irtegun is replaced by Gokhan Gonul, who returns from a spell out with a dicky shoulder.
And there we have it for the half. It's been pretty much all Arsenal, though they've yet to fashion a clear-cut chance, and Demirel has only been forced into one save, and that from a rebounded clearance. The only way is up.
[DISCLAIMER: The only way is not up.]
44 min: It's all Arsenal. The home side will be willing the half-time whistle to sound, giving them chance to regroup. "Arsenal are indeed not Liverpool, yet," writes Steve Johnston. "Only four domestic trophies, and nine European ones to go. Could be a while." McMahon's got a lot to answer for. Why can't you all play nicely?
42 min: Fenerbahce are all over the shop at the back. Ramsey sets in motion a highly hectic 60 seconds of action in the home team's penalty area. Giroud, Walcott, Giroud, Wilshere and Cazorla all try - but fail - to get a shot away during a mad scramble. Fenerbahce make five or six last-ditch challenges. But Arsenal never see the white of the keeper's eyes. Eventually Sagna swings a high ball into the area, allowing Demirel to pluck it from the sky and calm everyone down.
40 min: Fenerbahce have been wholly useless. Kuyt tries to get things going by pestering Wilshere in the middle, and he does intercept the ball, but the problem is he's clumsily standing on the Arsenal midfielder's foot as he makes his challenge. Free kick. And yet that's the best it's got for the home side for quite a while. "My son, for reasons best known to himself (born in Macclesfield of a Scottish father and mother of Welsh descent), is an ardent Gooner and he is thoroughly immersed in all the wailing and gnashing of north London teeth about the Arse's failure to win much of late," begins Dennis Copy, who one senses might have suddenly had enough. "What is wrong with people when being at least fourth for the 16th season on the trot isn't good enough? When I were but a stripling, I was regularly berated by the mantras 'Count yer blessings' and 'You don't know you're born' and 'There's always folks worse off than you' by parents who had been through all manner of horrors during the darkness of the Depression and WWII before the following light we were born into. As a spoiled brat I used to think my parents were having a laugh, but watching my son's despair at his team's 'failures' I now know just how right they were - I can think of at least 88 other teams in the four divisions who would gladly swap places with Arsenal, and if The Prof does get his marching orders there'll be a queue of roughly 80-odd potential suitors (just from England!) outside his door. Football and its fans are now completely barking." Preach on, brother. We're all a bunch of clowns.
37 min: Arsenal are probing down both channels, but despite repeated balls rolled towards Walcott and Giroud, they can't quite spring the home defence open. Even when Walcott wins a corner with another burst down the right, the set piece proves a total waste of time. Arsenal have been almost totally dominant, but the only save Demirel's had to make is that slapstick blooter off Giroud's astonished face.
34 min: Poor Koscielny's taken this match's momentum with him. After that break, we might take a couple of minutes to crank back up to speed. "Koscielny is not having his luckiest week," writes master of understatement Jamie Ayres.
31 min: Webo is booked for clattering his boot straight into Koscielny's coupon. "That's gotta hurt," says Alan Smith on the Sky television service, in the manner of George Costanza watching the Hindenburg movie Blimp. But it's a horrible looking injury, the defender immediately calling for medical assistance. He's eventually given a large pillow to mop up the blood, and walks off the pitch in a daze. He's not continuing. Jenkinson comes on in his wake. On the touchline, Wenger looks signally unimpressed with the challenge, and the lack of a red card.
28 min: A weak free kick from Emre up one end, a dreadful pass by Rosicky up the other. Then Kadlec panics with a backpass, Walcott lurking, forcing Demirel to hack clear in the agricultural style. This has gone a bit scrappy.
25 min: The ball drops to Ramsey, on the edge of the D, after busy work from Walcott down the right. He scuffs an awful effort wide left of goal. The keeper was visibly panicking there, too, as he scuttled across to cover that post. A poor shot. Meanwhile here's "Glenn Hoddle" again, with reference to Gary Naylor's mention of unlikely reasons for postponements of matches (sort of): "I'm an ex-pat remembering London Transport - do they still do those announcements with excuses for canceling the last train on the tube these days? I remember being stuck in Borough at midnight and hearing 'The last train has been cancelled because the driver has been bitten by a rabbit' and being not that much amused."
22 min: Corner for Fenerbahce. A small game of head tennis. Arsenal hoick it clear. Kuyt slides a ball to the right for Meireles, who slips it further across to Irtegun. But the cross is beyond aimless. Arsenal are still comfortable, but that's a little better from the Turkish side.
19 min: Walcott's nearly free down the inside-right again, but as he races towards another Rosicky sliderule pass, Demirel is out to slide clear. The ball's immediately flung back in the Fener area from the right, but Giroud can only send a weak header to the left of goal, with the keeper backtracking and far from in control. Not a clear-cut chance, but a chance nonetheless. "To be honest," begins Angus Chisholm. "I'm an Arsenal fan, and I'm just glad we're not Liverpool. Yet." McMahon!!! I knew this wouldn't end well.
18 min: More tiki-taka from the Arsenal, and it ends with the first meaningful save of the match, though not in the manner the move deserves. Cazorla, Rosicky, Ramsey, Wilshere and Giroud are all involved as the ball's pinged around in pretty triangles. Eventually Bruno Alves gets involved, and blooters the ball upfield, only to watch in horror as it twangs off Giroud's grid and flies towards the bottom corner. Demirel is on hand to gather.
16 min: Wilshere falls over his own feet, and goes down in pain. He calls for some medical assistance. After a couple of minutes, he gets up and gingerly walks off the pitch, with a view to being waved on again in a few seconds. Hearts in mouths for a minute for English football's blue-trousered heroes.
14 min: Wilshere spins out of trouble in the centre circle and bustles down the pitch with creative intent. He slips the ball wide left to Ramsey, who offloads to Rosicky. The cycle continues a couple of times before Wilshere eventually slips a ball to the left for Gibbs, who wins a corner. The set piece comes to nothing, but if the whistles of the crowd are anything to go by, Fenerbahce will be worried at the ease with which Arsenal are retaining possession.
11 min: Kuyt whips a cross in from the left, with Webo nearly getting his nut on it, eight yards out. But Koscielny clears. That's got the home support going, as the volume was dipping below 200 decibels for a minute there. "So much doom and gloom from Arsenal fans," notes Simon McMahon. "Pull yourselves together. You're not Newcastle. Yet." My feeling is, that email would have gone down so much better without those final three letters, but time will tell.
8 min: A couple of minutes when Fenerbache knock it around the back, get used to the shape of the ball, its properties, the way it behaves, etc. They're struggling to settle, though, and Rosicky nearly steals the ball off Irtegun down the left, but is penalised for clod-hopping clumsiness.
5 min: Arsenal are enjoying the lion's share so far. Walcott receives the ball twice down the inside-right channel, first taking an idiotic snapshot with team-mates better placed in the middle - it's charged down - then winning a corner after being set free into space by Wilshere. Nothing comes of the set piece, but this is a very promising opening for Arsenal. The home side can barely string two passes together at the moment.
3 min: Sagna wheechs a ball into the home area from the right. Demirel is out to claime. Arsenal are soon coming back at the hosts, Walcott nearly breaking clear down the inside right channel after a Rosicky sliderule. He's muscled out of it and the keeper takes up possession again. A lively start by Arsenal, though don't imagine it's shut the home crowd up any.
And we're off! The famous red-and-blues of north London get the ball rolling, to much abuse delivered in the audible whistle format. "Back in the early days of When Saturday Comes, they asked people to suggest the most unlikely reasons for postponements of matches," writes Gary Naylor, who is beginning to show his age. "My favourite? Renegade Apache at Fenerbahce."
The teams are out! Fenerbahçe are in their yellow-and-dark-blue gear, Arsenal in their red shirts with white sleeves - and blue shorts!!! No doubt some folk, football fans being a conservative bunch, will be beside themselves with fury at this egregious disgrace. But kneejerk traditionalists beware! Arsenal used to run out in this combo back in the days of Royal Arsenal and Woolwich Arsenal, in the 1890s. And in any case it looks quite nice.
Two long emails to kill the time before kick off, anyone? Oh look!
"For all the (justified) complaints about Arsene Wenger's declining skill in working the transfer market, perhaps just as serious for Arsenal is his similar waning abilities to develop and improve players (either from the youth teams or brought in who had struggled elsewhere)," opines David Wall. "Who was the last player who has really shown a lot of improvement while at Arsenal? Wilshere? Does he really count seeing as, from what everyone says, he was pretty much nailed on to do well in the first team from a very young age? In contrast you have players such as Walcott, Oxlaide-Chamberlain, Gibbs, Szczesny, and Ramsey who have not really progressed as had been hoped (or at least, not at the rate that might have been hoped) since going there, and others such as Arshavin who went backwards. Has he stopped spending so much time on the training ground? Or perhaps continued spending too much time on the training ground when it has reached a stage where it'd be better left to others to conduct the coaching?"
A grim analysis there. But Arsenal fans shouldn't reach for the bottle of brandy and the Deringer, and repair to the study before locking the door quietly behind them, yet. For it seems that despite Arsenal's current woes - that totally unacceptable 2013/14 record of one loss in a row!!! - their upwardly mobile neighbours and arch rivals aren't counting their chickens yet.
"Can somebody give the seven year-old kid who has apparently stolen the Spurs corporate credit card and is manically buying midfielders to fill out his European Panini Album a slap on the back of the head and tell him to take a deep breath and stop buying midfielders?" asks someone who has got himself an email account under the name Glenn Hoddle, unless they are actually called Glenn Hoddle, in which case I'd love to be a fly on the wall if they're ever pulled over for speeding in the Islington area. "We are still short of a fit centre back since someone carelessly sold Caulker to Hull - is there a plan? Hope Villa-Boas has done as much coaching as Wenger in the close season, because even if Arsenal buy no-one else by the end of the window I still expect them and Spurs to be neck and neck."
Fenerbahce: Demirel, Irtegun, ☞☞☞Yobo☜☜☜, Bruno Alves, Kadlec, Topal, ☞☞☞Meireles☜☜☜, ☞☞☞Emre☜☜☜, Sow, Webo, ☞☞☞Kuyt☜☜☜.
Subs: Gunok, Korkmaz, Baroni, Potuk, Emenike, Gonul, Erkin.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Rosicky, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Giroud, Walcott.
Subs: Fabianski, Podolski, Monreal, Sanogo, Jenkinson, Frimpong, Gnabry.
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (Italy).
Arsenal Football Club are in fantastic financial nick with millions in the bank and manageable levels of debt, have one of the newest and grandest stadiums in the world, are blessed with a manager who has won four league titles in England and France, boast a squad brimming with top talent in Cazorla, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere, and have a chairman who goes by the name of Chips. And yet, if they lose this game tonight, putting their chances of Champions League participation in jeopardy, they'll officially be in CRISIS. Way of modern football, I guess, but what a sorry state of affairs this is.
Which isn't to say nothing's up for grabs in this rubber. Fenerbahçe are standing in the way as Arsenal bid to make it 16 consecutive appearances in the group stages of the Champions League. Should Arsene Wenger's side fail to bodyswerve last year's Super Lig runners up, expect to hear a wee bit of noise as a proud run comes to an inglorious end. Even if Arsenal prevail in the tie overall, a stutter tonight could have serious consequences with the club already finding it difficult to attract that marquee signing, and time running out before the transfer window shuts.
Arsenal should find succour in Fenerbahçe's record against English teams in this competition, though. They've drawn opposition from these shores on five occasions, coming off worse in the group stages three times (against Manchester United in 1996/97 and 2004/05, and Arsenal in 2008/09), losing a quarter final against Chelsea in 2007/08, and coming off best only once, when they dumped Manchester City out of the European Champions Clubs Cup back in 1968/69.
Then again, they might look at Fenerbahçe's overall home record against English sides - W3 D1 L3 - and feel a slight pang of concern. Especially after the weekend's debacle against Aston Villa, and Fenerbahçe's 4-2 aggregate triumph over Salzburg in the third qualifying round.
Still, they'll be pleased to run into Joseph Yobo again. Yobo lost ten of the 13 matches he played against Arsenal while at Everton, including a 7-0 away defeat in 2005 and a 6-1 home loss in 2009.
Crisis escalates / is averted at: 9.45pm at the Şükrü Saracoğlu in Istanbul, 7.45pm for those of us stuck in Blighty watching the telecast on the Sky Sports Television Service 1.