By Richard Clarke at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, Istanbul
Arsenal tore down the ramparts of Fenerbahce’s fortress and put themselves within touching distance of the Champions League Knockout Stages with a simply stunning 5-2 win in Turkey on Tuesday night.
Arsène Wenger’s side took the game by the scruff of the neck after 10 minutes with two Cesc Fabregas-inspired goals inside 70 seconds. The Spaniard provided wonderful throughballs for first Emmanuel Adebayor and then Theo Walcott to skip past the keeper and score with aplomb.
Mikael Silvestre’s own goal gave Fenerbahce a lifeline in the 19th minute but Abou Diaby, in his first start since April, replied almost immediately. Alex Song volleyed home a fourth just after the interval to quash any notion of a fightback.
Daniel Guiza did lob home some consolation for Fenerbahce in the 78th minute but there was no denying Arsenal tonight. In injury time 17-year-old Arsenal substitute Aaron Ramsey even managed to grab his first goal in red-and-white.
It had been a drubbing. Arsenal had torn the hosts apart in the opening half and that had been enough to take three wonderful points.
Fenerbache maybe struggling right now but this result should not be underestimated. Most of this side took them to the Champions League Quarter-Finals and they had not lost at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium in 15 European ties. It was undoubtedly Arsenal’s best win in Europe since that legendary 5-1 victory at Inter Milan five years ago.
Before kick-off Wenger had revealed that he would be keeping the defence that finished against Everton on Saturday due to injuries to William Gallas (hamstring), Bacary Sagna (knee) and Kolo Toure (shoulder).
However the Frenchman still managed to throw a curveball with the selection of Diaby ahead of Robin van Persie. The French midfielder had just eight minutes of football under his belt this term. He had been sidelined with a thigh injury all season before making a late appearance against Everton at the weekend.
In fact the last time Diaby had started a game was Arsenal’s Champions League exit at Anfield at the Quarter-Final stage back in April. Even more surprisingly, the 22-year-old was stationed in a supporting role to striker Adebayor in front of a four-man midfield. The Frenchman had only done that job once before and that was back in April 2007 at Newcastle when Arsenal had been chronically short of forwards.
You could have argued it was a cautious tactic on paper but it did not work out that way.
The Sukru Saracolgu Stadium was the expected cacophony of colour and noise before kick-off. Each home player was called over to the stands during the warm-up by the massed ranks of fans and implored to fist-pump the supporters into a greater frenzy.
However, perhaps more tellingly, the fans in one stand held up cards that spelt out one giant word – believe. It was something required by the Fenerbahce fans and players alike. Their League form had been wretched and defeat this evening would leave them all but out of the Champions League.
That said, Aragones’ side nearly got the perfect start.
After two minutes, Gokhan Gonul crossed from the right to the near post, Ugur Boral controlled the ball at the near post before firing at Manuel Almunia from point-blank range. Fortunately the keeper had narrowed the angle and the ball bounced off his chest.
Arsenal created an immediate repost when Samir Nasri cut in from the left to set up Adebayor, who fired over from just outside the area. They may have been whistled every time they touched the ball but the visitors were bright and sparky. They showed just how much within 70 seconds soon afterwards.
First Fabregas split the defence with a slide-rule pass and Adebayor beat the offside trap to race on to slot past Volkan Demirel. Almost immediately it was 2-0. Again Fabregas was the provider, threading a superb low ball for the galloping Walcott. The England striker flicked the ball past Demirel but did well to fire in an accurate, angled shot from an awkward position.
It should have been three in the 13th minute. Diaby foxed Edu on the byline and his cut-back evaded a scrum of players in the middle. It found Nasri at the far post. But, by the time the French winger got his shot away, there were enough defenders back to block.
It was turning into an incredible game. Arsenal may have been leading and looking likely to score with every attack but they never entirely had matters under their control.
On the quarter-hour, Guiza crossed low from the right and Boral collided with Almunia as he tried to force the ball in from close range.
In the 19th minute, Fenerbahce did score. Song fouled Boral in the left-hand channel, Roberto Carlos hit the free-kick to the far post where Guiza chested the ball down and fired low in the centre of the area. Silvestre got to it before Boral but could only divert the cross high past Almunia and into his own net.
However the impetus was only back with the home side for a couple of minutes. In the 22nd minute Diaby latched on to a regulation high ball through the centre, shrugged off his marker and fired an accurate cross-shot into the far corner of the net. Again it was a fine finish but only ponderous defence from Fenerbahce allowed the opportunity to occur in the first place.
After that goal, the game finally caught its breath – and it needed to. Guiza put the ball past Almunia but was rightly flagged offside. Fenerbahce’s defence continued to be static with fear every time Arsenal attacked but then the visitors’ injury-hit backline was hardly water-tight this evening.
As the interval approached Guiza had two chances to get the home side back into the game. First the Spanish striker went through in the right-hand channel but dragged his cross-shot wide. In the 43rd minute he raced on to a first-time through ball from Alex. However his touch was heavy and Almunia, a former team-mate at Recreativo Huelva, rushed out to smother.
You can only assume that the Fenerbahce players had received a tongue-lashing at half-time. As well as Arsenal had played, the home side had made it all too easy.
However, whatever was said did not work as, four minutes after the restart, Arsenal scored again. Diego Lugano hauled down Nasri on the left, allowing Fabregas to fire a free-kick into the heart of the area.
Selcuk Selin inadvertently nodded the ball on and Silvestre’s touch allowed Song to crack home an angled volley from eight yards.
That goal sucked much of the life from Fenerbahce’s players and their fans. They had more of the play, Arsenal allowed that, but could not do much with it.
And an amazing episode in the 68th minute proved that when you luck is out it really is out. Edu raced through only be blocked by the sliding Almunia at the edge of the area, the ball ran loose but Guiza collected and from a tight angle fired goalwards. Gael Clichy blocked the ball again on the line. However, this time, it deflected towards Boral at the far post. Eboue threw his body at the ball and it went wide for a corner.
Ten minutes later Fenerbache did score again when Guiza went clear and clipped the ball over Almunia.
But it did not mean much on the night.
The final word went to Ramsey, who thumped in a cross shot from the edge of the area with the final kick of the game.
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- Song Goal! Yellow Card
- Silvestre Goal!
- Diaby 73 Goal! Yellow Card
- Walcott 84 Goal!
- Adebayor 86 Goal!
- Ramsey 73 Goal!
- van Persie
- Vela 86
- Djourou 84
- Gonul 80
- Roberto Carlos
- Edu Dracena
- Lugano Yellow Card
- Sahin Yellow Card
- Maldonado 53
- Senturk Yellow Card
- Guiza Goal!
- Yilmaz 80
- Bilgin 53