Starting XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Chambers, Bellerin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Flamini, Ramsey, Campbell, Sanogo, Podolski
Subs: Martinez, Maitland-Niles, Zelalem, Akpom, O’Connor, Iwobi, Kamara
Lukas Podolski and Aaron Ramsey scored twice each as the Gunners blitzed Galatasaray on the break to secure their second 4-1 win against the Turks in Group D.
The German striker scored a rasping effort in the third minute to set the tone and ended proceedings with his second in stoppage time after Aaron Ramsey grabbed an eye-catching brace of his own before the half hour mark.
The win sees the Gunners finish second in the table on 13 points, level with Borussia Dortmund who only managed a draw with Anderlecht, but with a worse goal difference.
Arsene Wenger announced 24 hours before kick-off that he’d be making five changes for the starting line-up that made such an horrendous start at Stoke on Saturday. Out went Martinez, Alexis, Giroud, Gibbs and Cazorla, in came Szczesny, Debuchy, Campbell, Sanogo and Podolski. The bench resembled a creche with six unfamiliar teenagers taken on the jaunt to a half-empty Turk Telecom Arena.
We’ve not exactly proved ourselves the quickest starters in recent weeks, but for once that wasn’t the case. As the locals filed into the stadium Aaron Ramsey split the Galatasaray defence with a fine pass that Lukas Podolski latched onto off the left flank. The German, a specialist in kicking things hard, took one touch and wellied the ball into the roof of the net at the near post. 1-0 with only three minutes on the clock.
After a couple of half chances for the home side we promptly doubled the lead on 10 minutes. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the architect with a powerful run through the middle, Ramsey joined him on the break, collected a pass on the left edge of the area, weighed up his options and carefully slotted in off the far post. It was a lovely finish to a fine move. 2-0.
On paper the game meant little to either side but it proved to be a surprisingly niggly encounter. Flamini, Melo and Tarik all went into the ref’s book for late challenges; cacophonous boos accompanying all.
Arsenal’s speed on the break was a constant cause for concern for the hosts. Podolski nearly grabbed his second on 19 minutes, smacking the bar with an effort almost identical to that which opened the scoring, then Sanogo cut in and had a shot blocked by a defender’s hand after a great run by Campbell. The latter, along with the Ox were not impressed that the young Frenchman chose to go it alone when they were free.
Campbell and Podolski both had fine chances to add a third. Again the German, obviously in the mood to impress a club that he’s been regularly linked with over the last year, forcing a decent stop from keeper Sinan Bolat.
From the resulting corner Ramsey proceeded to net one of the best hit goals you’ll ever see. As the ball fell to the Welshman 30-yards out he nonchalantly swept home a rising volley that crashed into the top corner. It was a quite unbelievable strike, so good it had Sanogo putting his hand over his mouth in wonder. (3-0)
Galatasaray should have pulled one back as Bulut beat Szczesny to a Sneijder cross but his header flew just wide. In truth though it was Arsenal who always looked more likely to score again. Sandwiched between a host of home side pot shots, Campbell was foiled by a smart save from close range and Chambers headed over from a free-kick which the confident Ramsey swished into the box with the outside of his boot.
Sensing an opportunity to rest tired legs, Arsene Wenger replaced Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey with 17-year-olds Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Gedion Zelalem. The Welsh Jesus apparently had a tight hamstring, while the Frenchman was on a booking.
The hosts, having replaced Yilmaz and Camdal with Altintop and Oztekin, enjoyed more of the possession in the opening stages of the second period, but they were still troubled by the energy of Chamberlain and Campbell. Semih could do nothing but drag down the England international after one particularly muscular run and deservedly went in the book. Debuchy, tiring by the hour mark on his return from three months out, picked up a yellow of his own for a pull on Sneijder.
Szczesny fielded a series of tepid attempts before Mertesacker produced a stunning block at close range on 66 minutes to maintain the Gunners three goal advantage. Just for good measure Debuchy threw himself at a couple of crosses before being replaced on 75 minutes by another 17-year-old, Stefan O’Connor.
With three minutes remaining Sneijder finally grabbed a consolation for the Turks. Mertesacker was harshly penalised for handball after blocking an Altintop shot on the edge of the area and the Dutchman spanked the resulting free-kick into the top corner. Given the circumstance he didn’t bother celebrating, even though the strike was pretty tasty. (3-1)
Having started the game with a brilliant strike, Lukas Podolski drew a line under proceedings in stoppage time. Stealing in behind the Turks defence he finished with aplomb to cap a fine win. (4-1)
Borussia Dortmund’s draw with Anderlecht means we could have finished top had we have bagged a few more goals, but having entered the game with a weakened squad the win was more than most were expecting.
It’s all about the luck of the draw now…