By Richard Clarke
Arsenal inched their way towards the Champions League Knockout Stages with a 0-0 draw against Fenerbahce on Wednesday night.
After a tough week, Arsène Wenger’s injury-hit side could have done with a victory to boost their fractured morale as well as their points tally in Group G. And they certainly deserved the win on the night.
Robin van Persie went close on numerous occasions in a one-sided first half and rattled the bar just before half time. However Arsenal’s challenge faded in the latter stages.
Still, Wenger’s side did the hard yards of qualification with that thumping win in Istanbul a fortnight ago.
In the wake of the week they have endured, perhaps the manager will be content enough with a point and a clean-sheet. Only on Saturday, when Arsenal entertain Manchester United, will we know if this game was the start of a revival or the continuance of concern.
In his pre-game press conference, Wenger had spoken of the need for rotation. However changes were necessary anyway. After Saturday’s defeat at Stoke, Theo Walcott (shoulder) and Emmanuel Adebayor (ankle) had joined William Gallas (hamstring) and Emmanuel Eboue (knee) on the injured list. Meanwhile Manuel Almunia fell sick on the day of the game.
Lukasz Fabianski replaced the Spaniard while Wenger also brought in Johan Djourou at centre half. Kolo Toure moved to right back with Aaron Ramsey positioned in front of him. Cesc Fabregas and Denilson continued in the centre while Samir Nasri came in on the left. Perhaps with Saturday’s game in mind, Bacary Sagna and Abou Diaby were left on the bench.
The game between these sides in Istanbul had been fast and open with neither possessing that much security at the back. Tonight, the attacking was almost entirely one-way in the first half.
Arsenal started at pace and kept up the pressure all the way to half-time. It began in the eighth minute when Fabregas clipped a pass into the heart of the area and Van Persie slid a shot wide of the far post with Volkan Demirel stranded.
Six minutes later, the Dutchman reached the byline and crooked the ball back into the area. Demirel could only palm the ball into the path of the unmarked Nasri however it got stuck under his feet and Fenerbache managed to clear.
Worse was to come for Arsenal. Fabregas tried to tip the ball towards the far corner, again Demirel’s touch fell straight to an Arsenal player. This time, from only five yards out, Van Persie hit the ball into the floor. It bounced up and flew over the bar via a defender's leg.
Arsenal continued to pepper the Fenerbache area with probing crosses. The visitors survived more by luck than judgement at times.
Just past the half-hour, Van Persie collected an astute low pass from Toure close to the byline, turned Lugano wonderfully and fired a rising shot against the bar. Replays proved Demirel’s fingertips had been crucial. An excellent save.
Arsenal were on top but Fenerbahce were having some joy on the break. Roberto Carlos raced up the left wing and Gokhan Gonul’s low, long-range drive forced Fabianski into his first semi-serious save of the night.
However, at the other end, Demirel could already have started to claim overtime. Six minutes before the break he started his application by making a theatrical save from Nasri’s cross-shot.
By the time the whistle blew a few minutes, Arsenal had everything but a goal.
Their pursuit continued three minutes after the break. Lugano clipped Van Persie as he roared through and Demirel tipped over the subsequent free-kick from Toure.
Soon afterwards, Fenerbahce created one of their clearest chances of the night when Semih Senturk sent Ugur Boral through on the left. He had enough to pace to go clear of the Arsenal defence however he dragged an optimistic shot wide of the far post.
The home side continued to attack in numbers but their focus was starting to falter.
As a result Wenger made significant changes – Bendtner and Ramsey came off, Diaby and Carlos Vela replaced them. The substitutions were all about injecting energy back into the Arsenal attack. For their part, Fenerbahce had the ultimate incentive. With Kyiv winning against Porto, even a draw would see them out of the Champions League after the group stage was over.
With 17 minutes left, Van Persie arrowed over a free-kick and Diaby nudged over a header from close range. However the grandstand finish stayed seated. Arsenal ran out of ideas before they ran out of time.
Just for good measure, Silvestre was forced off late in the game after a receiving a nasty bash on the nose.
Porto’s late winner at Kyiv did little to alter Group G. Wenger’s men are top and will go through if they beat the Ukranian’s next time out.
Before that however they have a much stiffer test on Saturday against the Premier League champions.
|2. FC Porto||4||2||0||2||5||7||6|
|3. FC Dynamo Kyiv||4||1||2||1||3||3||5|
- Djourou Yellow Card
- Silvestre 83
- Ramsey 59
- Bendtner 59
- Persie Yellow Card
- Vela 59
- Diaby 59
- Song 83
- Sahin Yellow Card
- Carlos 69
- Lugano Yellow Card
- Maldonado 69
- Kazim-Richards 59
- Wederson 69 Yellow Card
- Bilgin 59
- Josico 69