It was a nail-biting game but it ended with our aggregate victory. It would have been a major blow if we had failed to reach the Champions’ League Group Stage but our team managed to secure our 17th consecutive participation in the Champions’ League – only Real Madrid have been longer in the best European competition. Here are key pointers from the second leg.
1.Alexis picked the right time to open his account.
As I wrote before, one of the most things about Alexis is that he turns up in big matches. The game against Bešiktaš was bigger than our opponents. It’s not just that Alexis had the composure when it mattered to score – even if an opener in the injury time of the first half is something that every manager would like to get from his players – but also how he kept the opponents’ defenders on their toes with his constant attacking and dribbling.
A player of his caliber is capable of creating extra space for his team-mates even when the opponents have an additional player on the pitch. Even with ten men we were closer to scoring the second than Bešiktaš were to an equalizer.
The fact Alexis scored his first goal for Arsenal should help him a lot, especially given how certain “experts” were sharpening their pens to write him off as a flop. Our next opponents are Leicester and Alexis might score his first Premiership goal as well.
2.Has injury time become Arsenal time?
Alexis’ goal was the fourth that we scored in injury time this season. Like I wrote before, that can say a lot about the character of the team that doesn’t stop playing until the very end. Back when Yugoslavia still existed, we would call that “a German mentality”. Maybe it has something to do with the huge German influence in our team (Mertesacker, Özil, Podolski, Gnabry, Zelalem…, Shad Forsythe joined our staff this summer and Arsene Wenger had spoken German before he learned French) but it is something that winners do.
3.Jack Wilshere manned up.
There were a lot of Gooners concerned about Wilshere before the match against Turkish side. Fortunately, Jack gave an excellent performance and was unlucky not to score himself in the early stage of the match. He was our driving force in the absence of Ramsey and finally showed why most Gooners see him as our future captain.
4.Özil is efficient.
The German was involved in our goal and that’s his main duty. He wasn’t signed to dominate in every game or to perform a regular walking-on-water-routine once or twice per week. No. He was signed to create dozens of goals and perhaps score a few in that process too. With pacey wingers in his team, Özil finally has someone to pick with his delightful through balls.
5.Tomas Rosicky is still on the bench.
If there is something that worries me, it’s the fact Tomas Rosicky hasn’t been given too much playing time so far. His aggression and ability to drive the ball forward have been missed so far and I’m sure that Wenger is aware of Rosicky’s quality.
Perhaps the Czech maestro is not fully fit? When we were in the closing stage of the match against the Turks, I was hoping to see Rosicky on the pitch in order to tackle hard in the middle of the pitch and perhaps provide a quick pass for an Alexis’ counter-attack.
6.Calum Chambers is going to have a real European test as a right full-back.
Given that Debuchy got sent off, Calum Chambers will probably take his place in the Champions’ League opener. The opponents, however, promise a huge test for the youngster – Borussia Dortmund at Signal Iduna Park. Arsenal have been the only team to beat the Germans at their own ground in the Champions’ League since 2011 – Real Madrid, for instance, have suffered two convincing defeats there lately. Borussia play quick and direct football with Marco Reus as their main asset so Chambers might have another test of his versatility – he’ll have to adapt to his primary full-back role after playing as a central defender ever since he signed for Arsenal.
7.What’s going to happen with Lukas Podolski?
The German attacker hasn’t participated in any Arsenal matches since his return from a prolonged rest. Olivier Giroud’s serious injury probably secured him at least four more months at Arsenal but he might have a similar experience like the one of Andrey Arshavin in the Russian’s last season. The thing is, with Alexis and Özil in the team, Podolski might get both space and opportunities to show how deadly his howitzer can be. The only question is, will he get enough time to do so?
8.Two European games and two red cards – bad omen?
After Aaron Ramsey had been sent off in Istanbul the same thing happened to Mathieu Debuchy in London. It is pretty unbelievable how many red cards we have been awarded in our recent European games. If we take last season into account as well, it gets even more crazy – we have been reduced to ten men in four out of our last five matches in Champions’ League. It started with Mikel Arteta’s two yellow cards in Naples, then Wojciech Szczesny was outsmarted by Arjen “Mr Annoying” Robben, Ramsey made two fouls in a short space of time in Istanbul and Debuchy was also sent off for two bookable fouls. Too many yellow cards turned into too many red cards.
So, Bešiktaš are archived and we can think about our next opponents. Beating Leicester away would make the following international break less boring for us.