If there is one place you don't want to travel to on a Champions League week night it is Istanbul. If there is one place you definately don't want to travel to with a team who average 22 years old it is Istanbul. If there is one place you would be wroth to go to with a team who average only 22 years old and in the middle of a troubled period and surrounded by negative press it is Istanbul. That was the case for Arsenal on this difficult tuesday night.
It is not just the infamous fans at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium which make the atmosphere so hostile for the away team, but also the fact that Fenerbache are a very very good team who can beat anyone on their home turf. They defeated Chelsea here last season and have a formidable home record they were desperate to keep. A home win, was probably the most expected result from this game.
Arsenal had a ravaged back four with Sagna, Gallas and Toure were all out injured but the return of Abou Diaby and the resilience of Fabregas who has a broken nose meant it is not all bad news for the only decent team in north London. Suprisingly Wenger decided to start with a 4-5-1 formation and start Diaby of all people in a high attacking midfield, almost second striker role.
Almunia, Eboue, Song, Silvestre, Clichy, Walcott, Denilson, Fabregas, Denilson, Nasri, Diaby, AdebayorFenerbache:
Demeril, Gonul, Dracena, Lugano, Carlos, Boral, Maldonado, Alex, Sahin, Senturk, Guiza
This match was watched tentatively by countless fans and noone knew what to expect, in fact i am certain the start was beyond anyone's expectations as the Fenerbache defence, which i must say gave the worst performance i have ever seen from a team as highly rated as Fenerbache, fell to pieces.
Gonal and Nasri had chances before the crazy two minutes but i feel it only right to begin with these most unexpected of incidents.
Cesc Fabregas is famed for his ability to play a devestating through ball and he played a lovely one through to Adebayor who timed his run perfectly (something he doesn't always do) and sped away from the defence to slot it past the keeper. It was a wonderful through ball and run but it was still a little strange the defence were not wise to it quicker. Maybe they were not switched on but now they would be? No, in fact they were having a mare as a minute later a gap the size of the Persian Gulf appeared between the defence and Walcott ran through onto another of Cescs through balls, knocked it pass the keeper and slotted it into the back of the net.
Walcott looked ecstatic as i imagine every player and every Arsenal fan did, in a game where they were expected to seriously struggle they were 2-0 up after 11 minutes. Fenerbache were shocked and the fans were shocked, the noise level dimmed significantly and they probably would have stayed silent forever had the next chance gone in just 2 minutes later.
Abou Diaby ran down the right and virtually stopped in front of Edu begging him to tackle him. When he did he jinked past him with effortless class, it was the most relaxed move i had ever seen and it outfoxed Edu who was left for dead as Diaby bore into the area and cut it back through a crowd. The ball ended up with Nasri on the far post who should have made it 3-0 but his shot was blocked.
It was woeful.......... disgustingly woeful defending from Fenerbache and they should have been dead and buried right then, i imagine many watching were wondering what the hell was going on! Did Fenerbache think it was a training match rather than a Champions League group stages match with millions at stake for qualification?
Now whilst Fenerbache's defending can rightfully be called disgustingly woeful, despite being better, Arsenals defending can only really be classed as comprehensively crap. Even being down 3 first teamers is not a good enough excuse for how the gunners defended and how easy it was for Fenerbache and especially Guiza to get past them for a one on one.
Just two minutes after the Nasri chance Guiza crossed it in for Boral who was bravely thwarted by the stand in captain Manuel Almunia who slid at his feet before he could slot it in. The collision hurt Almunia a bit but he got up and carried on with what would end up being arguably his best career performance.
The start was frantic, possibly the most action packed start of a group stage game for many seasons and before anyone really had the chance to take it all in another goal went in on 19th minutes. A free kick made it's way to Guiza who hit a fast cross into a packed box and Silvestre smashed it into his own net in the process of stopping Boral doing the same thing.
In truth the finish was more clinical than it was shocking, it wasn't an awful own goal but really just unlucky for Silvestre and it added more heat to an already very spicy game.
This was the chance for Fenerbache to make ammends for their appalling start, maybe now if they calmed the game down and took control then they could turn things around. But this game didn't want to calm down, in fact just 3 minutes later the net rippled again to take this game's start to an almost stupendous level.
A bouncing high ball caused confusion to the Fenerbache defence and Diaby looked to latch onto it, he shouldn't have got there but the defending was laughable and instead of clearing it the defender ended up on the floor. Diaby got into a good position, coaxed out the keeper and slotted it low and true into the bottom corner with his notoriously weaker left foot.
Diaby was booked for lifting his shirt for about 3 seconds but you can understand why he wanted to overcelebrate as all his frustrations of being injured for so long disappeared as he amazingly retook the gunner's 2 goal advantage. Abou Diaby has his best game for Arsenal today, he was tremendous and despite only being on the field for 70 minutes (he was given a standing ovation by the home fans!!) he arguably put in the man of the match performance alongside Almunia who was also epic. In truth i would split it 50/50 between them, both of them were heroes.
It was 22 minutes in and more action had already happened than all the other games put together, finally the match decided to relax a bit and for the rest of the half there were no more goals.
Every time that Arsenal attacked for the rest of the half the Fenerbache team looked petrified, it was so easy, almost like a training match and the gunners decided to play their ultimate passing game with shooting as an afterthought just because they could. This annoyed a few gooner fans as this was still no time to try for the perfect team goal but it was still amazing to see it happening here. It was amazing to see a team famed for it's intimidation of the away team to seem so intimidated by the away teams attack.
It was Fenerbache who were closest to scoring though, a lovely move which led to a smooth finish by Guiza was rightly ruled offside and two further one on ones where wasted by the Spanish striker. Both chances came from decent through balls, the first was put wide by Guiza and the second was brilliantly smothered by Almunia who showed no fear all game. It should also be noted that the Arsenal defending looked so easily to break through, if it wasn't for Almunia this half could have ended 3-3.
Half time came and the fans were bouncing on the stands, the away fans that is, they were in fine spirits and certainly didn't expect to be 2 goals to the good at half time. No doubt the Fenerbache players were just as worried about the ear bashing they were about to get from Aragones as they were about the score.
Arsene Wenger did not seem as happy as he may have been though, in fact until the final whistle he was quite glum and sometime visibly angry at some of the occassionally sloppy play despite the scoreline. I imagine he was thinking that in a place like this it is not over until it was over, a sentiment i was agreeing with all game.
The second half began and Aragones was wishing for an early goal to get things started, it happened but not in the goal he wanted. Nasri was alarmingly injured by a foul on the left wing (thankfully he played on but it didn't look good for a while) and the resulting free kick was sent into the box by Fabregas. After a bit of pinball it was headed back into the path of Song by Silvestre and Song sent a brilliant volley low and hard into the back of the net.
Silvestre and Song looked overjoyed at their contributions and it was a great finish, Fenerbache looked disgusted with themselves and many hands were seen on faces in dismay. Whilst his attacking contribution was great in this game, defensively this was a game to forget for Song, the debate continues about his best position but after this game maybe defensive midfield is the one?
It was admirable how much the Fenerbache player had kept on relentlessly fighting despite the score up until that point, many teams would have deflated long before but the Turkish team showed great pride and determination. However that 4th goal was the last straw and from that moment the players dropped in demeanour and started to play like a beaten team. The fans also went silent and solemn for a significant period of time.
The next piece of action was a heroic piece of defending by Arsenal, another through ball defeated the Arsenal defence and Edu had yet a one on one chance. Inspired by being captain Almunia once again raced out and blocked the ball by the edge of the area. The ball went free and Almunia was left stranded whilst Guiza picked it up and ran through to shoot from an angle. Clichy blocked on the line brilliantly but the action was not over as Boral now had a chance at the far post. Eboue was having none of it and he threw himself in at point blank range to send the ball out for a corner.
I can't remember a more spirited piece of defending, nor as much conviction coming from the Arsenal defence as that, well certainly for a long while and i hope to see more of the same for the rest of the competition.
Guiza had loads of chances today but he did manage to take one when a header back to Almunia by Song after a high ball was misjudged and Guiza ran through to lob the ball over the outrushing goalkeeper. It was the definition of Song's defensive performance today but at least he had a great goal to his name.
Wenger was furious at the goal but in all honesty unlike before any chance of a comeback seemed remote as the same desire was gone from the Fenerbache attack.
In fact the last goal went to Welsh wonderkid Aaron Ramsey who collected the ball outside the middle of the area after a good passing move and shot the ball low and hard off the far post and into the net. It was a great finish and the icing on the cake after a great Arsenal attacking performance. It was also the icing on the cake for Ramsey after a much talked about performance for the Welsh under 21's against England.
The final whistle went and Wenger finally looked cheery. The gunner's players high fived and embraced eachother and went to celebrate with the fans who were beside themselves in joy. This was a highly unexpected result and also one of the most impressive results in the Champions League for a long long time. I don't think any gooner who watched this will forget it that is for sure, i never will.
With 2 away games gone Arsenal only have to win one more game out of 3 to qualify for the knockout stages although the gunners will desperately want to make it into top spot which is something they have not always done. As for the next premier league game we can only hope that the defence sorts itself out as Premier teams are not that wasteful, but if the gunners attack decides to put on a parallel performance well that is fine by me, and i imagine fine by any gooner out there