Arsenal silence most critics with comfortable win at Fenerbahce

Arsène Wenger had hoped for a sanctuary amid the mayhem at this bear-pit of an arena, a dose of "real football" rather than wearying talk of crisis and the lack of summer signings.

The Arsenal manager also expressed the belief that the world would see the quality of his existing players, as the team pushed to advance through the Champions League play-off and reach the group phase of the competition for the 16th consecutive season.

They did that to all intents, with a performance of resilience and no little style, leaving Wenger to enjoy the granting of his every wish. Next Tuesday's second leg in London has been rendered academic. Arsenal were superior in all areas, particularly midfield where Aaron Ramsey excelled, and once Kieran Gibbs had scored only his fourth goal for the club, the result and indeed the whole tie were beyond doubt.

Fenerbahce, so hopeful beforehand, were dismal and Arsenal, having held them at arm's length, turned the screw through Ramsey's low shot from distance that embarrassed the goalkeeper, Volkan Demirel, and Olivier Giroud's penalty. Fenerbahce roused themselves only after Ramsey's goal and by then the die had been cast. The crowd, so relentless, so frenzied, for much of the evening, were deflated before the end.

This was reassuring for Arsenal after the disastrous home defeat to Aston Villa on the opening Saturday of the Premier League season, even if the levels of the opposition called for perspective. The club has been pepped. No one, it seems, is as skilled at jumping into and out of turmoil, and the only downside for Wenger was the facial injury to Laurent Koscielny that forced the defender off on 33 minutes.

It was a grisly moment and it drew Wenger's wrath. Koscielny, having leaned in to win a header, saw Pierre Webo's dangerously raised boot make a sickening contact with his brow. He was still being stitched in the 60th minute of the game before he was taken to hospital for a precautionary x-ray. The Arsenal physiotherapist, Colin Lewin, said that it was one of the worst cuts he had seen. Koscielny later sported a black eye to go with it. Webo was booked.

"I was not happy with the kick because I feel always that you can ease a bit off," Wenger said. "Only the player will know what he did. I don't really know what to think about it. When I saw it, I was angry. We faced a lot of challenges on Saturday [against Villa] and tonight again."

It was an occasion when Arsenal stood up to some rough stuff. Jack Wilshere felt his ankle after a tackle from Mehmet Topal; Wojciech Szczesny was caught late by Moussa Sow and suffered scratches to his neck while Per Mertesacker was clobbered by an elbow from Bruno Alves, for which the Fenerbahce player was booked. After Koscielny's substitution Wenger moved Bacary Sagna into central defence and introduced Carl Jenkinson at right-back. Koscielny is already suspended for Saturday's league fixture at Fulham.

"We played in a very, very heated atmosphere but we had a proactive attitude from the first minute," Wenger said. "We did not come in shaking but resolute and determined. I said on Tuesday that you forget this team has lost only one game since March, and that was under very, very special circumstances [against Villa]. Our technical quality was very important tonight; the fact that we can go away and keep possession of the ball."

There was a balance to Arsenal's midfield, with Tomas Rosicky dropping back to make a central three when required, but for most of the evening he pushed high as his team called the tune. Wenger had again started Lukas Podolski among the substitutes, which would have gone down with the German like a Galatasaray shirt in this stadium, but Santi Cazorla, who came in on the left, was lively.

Arsenal knitted together slick passing moves, although they lacked an end-product in the first-half. But Ramsey helped to sculpt the breakthrough and after that they did not look back. His pass sliced open the Fenerbahce defence and when Theo Walcott chose to look for Gibbs at the far post, the full-back steered home. Arsenal celebrated as a group and the plaster above Gibbs' eye – the legacy of damage suffered against Villa – was dislodged. Blood and guts were the evening's theme.

Arsenal went for the jugular. Walcott was denied at close quarters by Demirel, as was Wilshere, but when Ramsey was allowed to run unchallenged, his low shot proved too strong for the Fenerbahce goalkeeper, who fumbled into the corner. Sow had a couple of chances and the substitute Emmanuel Emenike drew a sharp last-minute save out of Szczesny but Giroud's penalty, after Kadlec's foul on Walcott, represented Arsenal's emphatic final word.

Powered by article was written by David Hytner at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, for The Guardian on Thursday 22nd August 2013 00.32 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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