Having spent 18 years in charge of Arsenal, Arsene Wenger is still incredibly reluctant to dwell on past successes. Yet, as an avid student of the game, he would have also been keenly aware of a few key statistics ahead of Galatasaray’s visit to the Emirates in the UEFA Champions League.
Arsenal have never lost to a Turkish side in regular time and Galatasaray have yet to record a win on English soil. The glaring footnote being the only other time these two sides have met – the 2000 UEFA Cup final, when Arsenal lost to the Turkish side in Copenhagen on penalties.
Ravaged by injuries, much of the pre-game column inches were devoted to speculation as to which midfield formation Arsene Wenger would deploy. Deprived of the midfield guile and stability that Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta provide, Wenger was also tasked with accommodating Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla in a fashion that would allow their creative talents to flourish without sacrificing the balance required in elite European competition.
Galatasaray, meanwhile, had the luxury of a fully fit squad to call upon but traveled to London on the back of distinctly average domestic form and a worrying defensive record in the Champions League. Galatasaray have recorded only one clean sheet in their last 14 Champions League games and needed a 91st-minute equalizer from Burak Yilmaz to salvage a draw at home against Anderlecht last time out.
Szczesny 5 – Completely untroubled until the penalty incident when he had little choice but to commit to a challenge for the ball with Yilmaz played through on goal. Replays suggest that could have been braver when diving at feet but can have no arguments about the red card.
Chambers 8 – Impossible to believe that the 19-year-old is playing his first season in the UEFA Champions League. Also showed incredible tactical discipline against superior numbers. An additional half point for somehow not picking up his customary yellow card.
Mertesacker 7.5 – Typically solid and another no-frills display in defense. Once again, his lack of pace more than made up for by flawless positional awareness.
Koscielny 8 – Followed up a superb display against Spurs with yet another clinic in central defending. Also seems to have shaken off a poor habit of diving in on players in the penalty area and was completely unfazed by the extra man.
Gibbs 8 – Wenger may well be ruing how well Gibbs is playing lately as it may inevitably lead to a call-up to the England squad in a few weeks. Dangerous moving forward and tidy in defense, Gibbs is quietly learning which of these virtues is required by his team when circumstances dictate.
Flamini 7 – Followed up a very poor performance in the north London derby with the sort of shift Arsenal need from a holding midfielder. Nothing spectacular, but gladly carried water and provided a platform for the more creative players.
Oxlade-Chamberlain 8.5 – Seems to be on a mission lately to make it impossible for Wenger to drop him. Beautiful assist for Welbeck while simultaneously showcasing the type of engine and industry that should excite every England fan.
Alexis 8 – Amidst increasing speculation that he might not fit into the current Arsenal set-up, never went hiding and dispatched a clinical finish. Also starting to show an eye for a pass that suggests he might be one to watch for assists this season. Deducted half a point for not gratuitously hiking up his shorts. Tease.
Cazorla 8.5- Worked his boy’s department sized socks off and provided a crucial link between defense and attack. Incredibly unfortunate not to score, which would have been no less reward than his overall team contribution deserved.
Ozil 8 – Unabashedly shy in the tackle, the roaming Ozil found space all over the Emirates. Did what he does best and orchestrated the attack with subtle movements and insightful forward play. Clearly benefits with runners ahead of him and not having to do anything that might hurt.
Welbeck 9.5 – Tired towards the end, which is about the only criticism that can be leveled against the England international tonight. Has Welbeck found his spiritual home? Is he trolling his Manchester United mates on social media tonight? If he isn’t, he should.
Muslera 5 – Won’t be buying his defense dinner anytime soon. Neither clearly at fault for any of the goals, nor did his cover himself in glory with the kind of saves you need away from your goalkeeper, away from home, at this level of competition.
Chedjou: 5 – Suffered in the same way the rest of the Turkish back line did with Arsenal’s movement and pace. Nothing noticeably deficient in his performance but looked out of his depth in the face of quick passing.
Melo: 4 – Looked more comfortable when shunted into midfield but struggled all night trying to contain an inspired Welbeck. Incredibly lucky not to receive an early bath after a reckless (at best) challenge on Alexis.
Kaya: 5 – Must also share the collective responsibility of an incredibly poor back line and woefully caught out of position too often. Will be lucky if his goalkeeper speaks to him in training this week.
Sari: 5 – Almost impossible to rate because of a pretty anonymous performance. Did very little to contribute to his team’s performance and far too happy to hide when his teammates needed him most. Utterly lost on the big stage.
Kurtulus: 6 – Showed more industry and willing than his counterparts but struggled to contain the mercurial Carzola. Can at least be confident he won’t be the primary candidate of the next dressing room prank.
Dzemaili: 6 – Lively in spurts but suffered from no obvious outlets in the same colored shirt. Often far too frustrated by the additional defensive responsibilities imposed upon him by a very mobile Arsenal side.
Sneijder: 6.5 – Increasingly influential, especially with a man advantage, but not the Sneijder of old that could grab a game by the scruff of the neck. A few pot-shots from the edge of the area hinted at his superior class but not nearly enough on the night.
Telles: 5.5 – Clearly hoped to take advantage of Arsenal’s right flank with a teenage defender ahead of him but rarely troubled a composed Chambers. Plenty of huff and puff but never showing any real likelihood of blowing the house down.
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