Arsenal picked up a vital away win at Fenerbahce with Kieran Gibbs, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey scored the goals to give the Gunners a priceless 3-0 lead to take back to the Emirates Stadium in their play-off game at the Sukru Saracoglu stadium.
The game was the perfect tonic to what had been a woeful start to the Londoners’ league campaign last Saturday, and if they do put in a similar performance next week, will definitely seal progress to the Champions League proper.
On a noisy night in Istanbul, new Fenerbahce coach Ersul Yunsal named a full strength side to take on the Gunners, having beaten Red Bull Salzburg to set up this two-legged clash with Arsenal.
Volkan Demirel, who had stood in goal five years ago when Arsenal came to this ground, was in between the sticks with former Everton man Joseph Yobo and Portugal international Bruno Alves at centre back. Michael Kadlec and Bekir Irtegun started out wide.
With former Newcastle man Belozoglu Emre and Liverpool playmaker Raul Meireles pulling the strings in midfield and aided by another former Kop man in Dirk Kuyt and club captain Mehmet Topal, there was enough supply for Moussa Sow and Pierre Webo up front.
Arsene Wenger had an already thin squad to choose from and those numbers were further depleted over the weekend. Nevertheless, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs both began at fullback with Per Mertesacker sporting the captain’s armband alongside Laurent Koscielny in the centre.
With Mikel Arteta injured, Aaron Ramsey started in midfield along with Jack Wilshere and Czech Republic captain Tomas Rosicky. Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud led the line for the visitors.
Right from the start, Arsenal set about doing their business. Walcott and Gibbs launched in crosses from corners and open play throughout the game. They were also effecting on the defensive, quickly shutting down the Canaries’ counter attacks and at times forcing the hosts to play a very patient game, despite the chorus of boos that hit them every time they received possession of the ball.
In the 18th minute, Giroud muffed a header wide and seven minutes later, Ramsey fired over the bar. In response, the hosts failed to create chances of note.
Much was made over the mounting number of injuries at Arsenal and the Gunners would soon have another name to add to their casualty list. Laurent Koscielny received a boot in the head from Webo and received treatment for a wound sustained to his forehead before coming off the pitch to receive stitches.
With no established centre-back on the bench, Wenger was forced to move Sagna into the centre and bring on Carl Jenkinson, in a scenario very reminiscent of what transpired against Villa on the 17th.
The Gunners continued to probe, but seemed to lack that cutting edge. Despite that, the finished the first half on the up.
They would convert their probing into goals in the second half.
After the Gunners had gifted possession to Dirk Kuyt, who let fly but missed the target from distance, Ramsey pierced the home rearguard with a pass to Walcott, who had the presence of mind to find Gibbs ghosting in at the far post.
The left-back tapped home to give Arsenal the lead in the 51st minute, scoring his first European goal for them in the process.
Boos that accompanied Arsenal’s crisp passing on the night alternated with groans whenever the hosts misplaced passes. Raul Meireles was particularly guilty of having a sloppy game in midfield.
With Koscielny having been taken off for a rather bad head wound, Arsenal fans looked on with bated breath as Webo’s studs then caught the onrushing Wojciech Szczesny. Despite an ugly rash of stud marks on his neck, the Poland international was able to carry on unperturbed.
Webo was booked for his infractions and a minute later, made way for new signing Emmanuel Emenike as the hosts brought their new £11 million signing into the fray in an attempt to steady the ship. But it would be the visitors who would score almost immediately afterwards.
In the 64th minute, Ramsey let fly from distance and despite Demirel getting a hand to the ball, it had enough on it to bobble over the line and extend the Gunners’ lead.
Fenerbahce, however, did not back down from showing plenty of bite. Moussa Sow was presented with a trio of opportunities to right things but all of them went narrowly wide.
But despite the hosts stepping it up a notch, it would be once again the visitors who would score. Kadlec fouled Walcott in the box and referee Gianluca Rocchi was quick to point to the spot. Giroud converted to score his second goal in as many games.
The Frenchman was withdrawn soon afterwards for Lukas Podolski and a few minutes later, the return of Nacho Monreal from a back injury further lifted Gunners’ hearts.Emenike threatened late on, but Szczesny persevered to keep his clean sheet.
Which will be very important when the return leg of this game is played next week.
Fenerbahce SK 0-3 Arsenal
Goalscorers: Gibbs 51’, Ramsey 64’, Giroud 77’pen
Fenerbahce: Demirel, Irtegun (Gonul 45’), Alves, Yobo, Kadlec, Topal, Emre, Meireles (Potuk 82’), Kuyt, Webo (Emenike 63’)
Subs not used: Gunok, Korkmaz, Baroni, Erkin
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny (Jenkinson 33’), Gibbs, Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky, Cazorla, Walcott (Monreal 87’), Giroud (Podolski 82’)
Subs not used: Fabianski, Frimpong, Gnabry, Sanogo
Bookings: Kadlec, Alves, Webo; Szczesny