Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy, Chambers, Koscielny, Monreal, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Alexis, Giroud
Subs: Martinez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Bellerin, Miquel, Campbell, Flamini, Rosicky
Arsenal secured a hard fought 0-0 against Besiktas in the first leg of their Champions League double-header in a scrappy game that peaked early and ended with a red card for Aaron Ramsey. Arsene Wenger’s men created few chances over the course of 90 minutes but will at least be proud of a clean sheet that stands them in good stead ahead of next week’s return game.
Nacho Monreal replaced Kieran Gibbs but aside from the Spaniard’s inclusion it was the same starting line-up that took to the Emirates pitch for Saturday’s win over Crystal Palace. Laurent Koscielny was deemed fit enough to start despite concerns over his Achilles.
Slaven Bilic had promised his Besiktas side would take the tie to Arsenal from the off and it turned out he wasn’t lying. It took only four seconds for the Arsenal goal to come under threat as Demba Ba rattled the Gunners cross bar straight from kick-off with Wojciech Szczesny backtracking like a flailing 1995 David Seaman. Replays seemed to confirm the Pole got a hand on the ball but either way he was a lucky boy.
Buoyed by the early chance and vociferous support from a huge crowd the home side continued to dominate the early proceedings and ex-Chelsea man Ba threatened a second time on eight minutes with a flying volley that forced Szczesny into an acrobatic stop.
On a pitch more uneven than an acne-ridden teenage face, the Gunners struggled to string passes together in the centre of the pitch. They did though look dangerous playing a direct game. Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla each squandered good chances as Alexis forced the home side onto the back foot with his quick footwork and surging runs down the right wing.
In the Arsenal defence Calum Chambers enjoyed a tremendous opening 35 minutes repeatedly carrying the ball out of defence to make incisive passes and time after time getting the better of Ba who resorted to picking the ball up deep and running at the Gunners backline. The only blot on his copybook was a slip a minute before half time that freed Ba to run at goal; thankfully for the 19-year-old the striker could only screw his shot wide.
Seemingly more wary of the threat posed by Aaron Ramsey, Besiktas afforded Jack Wilshere lots of time on the ball in the centre of the park and as the half wore on the England international grew in confidence. After a period of smart possession he nearly grabbed himself a goal only for his curled effort to bend too close to Tolga in the Turks’ goal.
Just before the break Arsenal should have taken the lead. Ramsey dinked a superb pass over the home side’s defence and Giroud only needed to make the merest contact to guide the ball past the keeper. Somehow he totally fluffed his lines and the opportunity was lost.
The second half started as frantically as the first. Aaron Ramsey turned down an early opportunity to shoot from the edge of the Besiktas box and moments later Jack Wilshere took a frustratingly heavy touch just as he looked primed to fire at goal. The Turks responded with a swift break and Olcay Şahan looked destined to break the deadlock only for his shot to bend wide of Szczesny’s outstretched left hand and the post.
The ferocious pace was broken by an injury to Mikel Arteta who appeared to turn an ankle under a heavy challenge. He was replaced by Mathieu Flamini on 50 minutes. Ramon Motta and Aaron Ramsey were both booked in swift succession when play resumed and Flamini soon followed. The Frenchman really does have an insatiable appetite for yellow cards. On 65 minutes a lunge by Monreal ensured he too joined them in the book.
Ramsey and Alexis combined well to free Debuchy in the right channel but despite a half decent pull back by the right-back Giroud couldn’t find the space to trouble the keeper. It was Alexis’ last meaningful action before he was replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on 72 minutes.
As the game edged towards its scrappy conclusion Arsenal made things even tougher for themselves by going down to ten men. With 10 minutes left Aaron Ramsey was turned in the centre of midfield by sprightly ex-Gunner Oğuzhan Özyakup and the Welshman instinctively pulled back his opponent. It looked a little soft but it wasn’t surprising to see the referee flash a second yellow. Our Welsh Jesus walked and he’ll miss next week’s second leg.
Despite being down to ten men Arsene Wenger’s men continued to attack and Oxlade-Chamberlain nearly grabbed a very late winner. Jinking in off the right side of the box the substitute found space to smash a left foot shot goalwards which Tolga Zengin palmed onto the post.
The Gunners saw out four minutes of injury-time, notable only for Slaven Bilic being sent to the stands, to secure a creditable draw on a tough night in Istanbul.