Heading into a second leg 3-0 up on aggregate, at home no less, seems like a very comfortable situation. As we have seen in previous years however, upsets happen and complacency can be an extremely dangerous thing. You could tell Arsene Wenger was well aware of this as he fielded an extremely strong side, despite a huge London Derby against Tottenham this weekend.
There was some sloppy passing and scrappy tackling from both teams initially, with neither side dominating possession. The team seemed to be shocked into life after Jenkinson was dispossessed by Emineke on the edge of the box, the ball pinballed around the goal mouth, and if it wasn’t for a smart reaction save by Szczesny, a Sagna clearance would have ricocheted off Meireles and back into the net.
After a quarter of an hour, Cazorla showed some great footwork to get away from 3 players and send Wilshere on his way. Jack drove the ball forward and played it forward to Giroud, the return pass was on and would have put him through on goal. Giroud however, opted to shoot from distance and didn’t wrap his foot around the ball sending it well wide. The form he’s been in you can’t blame the Frenchman for shooting, but it was a poor finish and he should have done better.
Aaron Ramsey is another player showing fine form at the moment and he certainly continued it tonight. In typical fashion Podolski put his head down and charged through the defense, toe poking the ball through to an onrushing Walcott who knocked it into the path of the Welshman, who had a virtual tap in to make it 1-0 on the night and 4-0 on aggregate.
Szczesny was left looking very suspect after half an hour when he came out to claim a lofted corner rebound and flapped at the air getting nowhere near the ball. He got a second attempt at it and he was deemed to be fouled by Emineke, a lucky escape for the Polish keeper.
After a solid performance for most of the first half Sagna was turned by Emineke, he slipped in his rush to recover and the Nigerian was away and in the clear. Bearing down on goal, he shaped to shoot to the far corner, but instead blasts it near post, Szczesny did excellently to push it onto the post. The danger wasn’t completely cleared, and moments later the Pole made another fantastic point blank save. It was given offisde in the end but Szczesny wasn’t to know that.
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It was fantastic to see Podolski get a brace against Fulham, and he fully deserved his starting spot today. Unfortunately, after a great run the German forward pulled up with a hamstring injury just after half time and had to be substituted. Thankfully we had a ready replacement and Gibbs was brought on. With the score-line looking so comfortable and Spurs coming up this weekend perhaps one of our younger players should have been given a chance, but Gibbs came on and linked up well with Monreal, interchanging fluidly and contributing well in attack.
Shortly after there was a blatant dive from Emineke as Szczesny slid close to him, but thankfully the Referee saw it clearly and booked the forward. It’s good to see referees trying to eradicate diving from the game and I don’t think we see enough bookings for it in the Premiership.
On the hour our Handsome French Bloke was brought off for his younger compatriot, Yaya Sanago. While his hold up play was good, Giroud had been fairly poor in front of goal and his decision making hadn’t been great, unfortunately Sanago was the only other Forward we had available and it shows how much we need a new Striker in as the young Frenchman was extremely poor tonight. His touch, finishing and work rate all let him down and he just isn’t Arsenal quality yet.
Fenerbahçe’s Keeper, Volkan, kept the score respectable with a number of good saves including a fantastic fingertip save from Santi, pushing the ball behind. Gibbs should have done better from the resulting corner when he got a free header from 6 yards out, but the ball sailed over and you could see the young Englishmen was furious at himself.
Although I’m not convinced Walcott should be our designated free kick taker, he has certainly been improving recently. After a hand ball from Meireles on the left of the box Theo was unlucky not to get off the mark for the season with a dipping effort that rattled the cross bar.
Some beautiful passing left Gibbs in acres of space on the edge of the box, he raced towards the byline before cutting it back for Ramsey, who showed finishing of world class striker’s calibre as he opened up his body and stroked a beautiful first time volley into the far corner. 2 for Arsenal, 2 for the Welsh Wizard, and 5 for the tie.
Ryo Miyaichi was given 15 minutes as Walcott was rested for the weekend, and other than a pin point cross which almost resulted in a volleyed Jenkinson goalh. Overall, however, he was fairly ineffective, giving the ball away on several occasions.
I was really impressed by Santi’s willingness to get back and put in some important tackles deep in our half. He started a number of counter attacks this way and 1 nearly resulted in a goal, unfortunately Wilshere’s first touch let him down uncharacteristically.
Jack took a number of blows to the ankle in the last 15 minutes which I’m sure had Gooners around the world wincing. He stayed on however, which is excellent as we will certainly need his passion against the Spuds.
After another Man of the Match performance, Ramsey went off for the last few minutes leaving us with 10 men. He’s become a vital part of our set up and I pray it’s nothing serious.
This result has to build our confidence for Spurs this weekend. Unfortunately, however, Posolski is a confirmed casualty for three weeks. In any case, bring on the season’s first real London Derby!
on securing a group stage place…
We completed the job and we had some problems to get into the pace of the game. Overall, especially in the second half, we controlled the game and did a professional job. It was maybe not a very exciting game but we did what we had to do. Overall we scored five goals and didn’t concede so we are in the group stage. That’s what we wanted.
That’s the negative of tonight. We paid a heavy price on the injury front because we lost Podolski. I don’t know how bad Ramsey is. I don’t know how Wilshere responds to an ankle problem. We have to check that [on Wednesday] morning.
on the fouls at the end of the game…
Yes, the two tackles on Wilshere were disappointing. I cannot change it now. He looks alright. Podolski is definitely out for 21 days and Ramsey we have to check how severe his groin is tomorrow.
on if he considered replacing Wilshere…
I wanted to take him off. Yes, of course. I would have played with 10 men. We were 2-0 up. They had to score five goals in 10 minutes. I think even with 10 minutes, we could have avoided that!
on if Wilshere wanted to play on…
He wanted to go on, yes.
on if game has further heightened the need for new signings…
We have to see how bad the injuries are. I cannot tell you more than we are on the market. Everybody knows. The whole world knows that now. I cannot be more creative than that in the press conferences because all has been said and nothing has been concluded yet so I can understand your questions but I cannot give you more answers at the moment.
on if Wilshere and Ramsey will feature at the weekend…
Jack should be alright for Sunday and I’m hopeful on Aaron as well. I don’t know how bad it is. I took Ramsey off with three or four minutes to go but I don’t know how bad it is. I haven’t seen him yet.
on if he made the decision to take Ramsey off…
Yes. He wanted to stay on.
on Juan Mata’s father reportedly being in the stadium…
I have heard like you, because I watched the game last night, that Juan Mata could be on the market. I don’t know. There’s anyway a reluctance in England to sell to each other.
on Ramsey’s performance…
He gets to the end of things now. I liked especially his second goal. It’s a good finish and a year ago he would not have taken that chance the way he took it here. He’s improving from week to week. That’s very positive for us because a year ago, many people were questioning Aaron Ramsey.
on reaching group stage of Champions League for 16th consecutive season…
I believe that at the top level, the most difficult is to be consistent. Of course it’s an achievement because if you look at the clubs in Europe who have done it, there are only three clubs that have done it in the whole of Europe. I hear a lot that it’s not enough and I agree with that. But still it shows that we have been remarkably consistent. Our ambition is much higher than that and I take that on board from everybody.
on if Podolski’s hamstring could have been torn…
I think Podolski will be out for about three weeks.
on if he’s accepted that he will not sign Wayne Rooney…
Look we cannot speak about players who are under contract with other clubs. When players are under contract at another club, they have to respect the contract. If you want to buy the player, you have to speak to the club first. I think we have all to accept that.
Jenkinson Sagna Mertesacker (c) Monreal
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