By Rob Kelly at the Turk Telekom Arena
Aaron Ramsey scored a sensational long-range volley as Arsenal cruised to a comfortable victory against Galatasaray in their final Champions League Group D fixture.
With the Gunners’ place in the last-16 already secure, they could play with freedom in Istanbul - and they certainly made the most of it during a fine first-half performance.
They set about their task with relish, roaring into the hosts straight from kick off and taking the lead after three minutes through a Lukas Podolski thunderbolt.
They never looked back. Soon they were two up with barely 10 minutes had been played after Ramsey nonchalantly cooly finished from inside the area.
But if that had been a good strike, his second was nothing short of spectacular.
After Joel Campbell’s corner had been headed clear by Semih Kaya, Ramsey - fully 30 yards out - raced on to the loose ball and unleashed a stunning left-footed volley into the top corner. It was breathtaking.
Sneijder scored late on for Galatasaray with a well-struck free kick but it was little more than a consolation. In fact, there was still time for Podolski to finish off another fine European night by scoring his second with the very last kick of the game.
SETTING THE SCENE
Wenger had admitted in the lead-up to this game that topping Group D remained “very unlikely” and as such, delivering a strong performance was the primary target for the night.
The Arsenal manager had taken the unusual step of naming his side in his pre-match press conference, and he stuck to his word - fielding an experienced line up with seven of the club’s rising stars on the bench.
The most notable starter was Mathieu Debuchy, back in first-team action after just shy of three months on the sidelines with an ankle injury. Elsewhere, Hector Bellerin switched sides to start at left back and Joel Campbell made just his second start of the campaign on the right side of the attacking trident.
Galatasaray, meanwhile, had experienced a turbulent time since their 4-1 defeat at Emirates Stadium two months ago. After a difficult start to their domestic campaign, and a haul of just one point from five Champions League matches, they had parted company with Cesare Prandelli at the end of November.
The appointment of former Gala player Hamza Hamzaoglu had led to an upturn in form, and Wenger had warned his players not to expect anything less than an “intense” affair. And with a starting XI that included the likes of Sneijder, Felipe Melo and the dangerous Burak Yilmaz, their threat was obvious.
Wenger had called for his side to deliver a big response after Saturday’s defeat at Stoke City and they wasted little time in going about it as they grabbed the lead after just three minutes.
Ramsey was the instigator, driving through the midfield and beating two men before finding Podolski to the left of the box. There was still a lot to do, but the Germany international simply took a touch, looked up and crashed a hammer of a drive into the top corner.
It was a fabulous strike - and one that gave the Gunners the perfect start.
Galatasaray were keen to restore some pride after a disappointing European campaign and had a golden chance to equalise soon afterwards but Hakan Balta screwed a shot wide from eight yards.
The centre back was made to rue his profligacy four minutes later as Arsenal doubled their advantage in clinical fashion.
Podolski turned provider this time, winning the ball in the hosts’ half and setting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain free. The England international attacked the space in front of him with relish, before finding the overlapping Ramsey to the left of the box and the midfielder almost casually rolled the ball into the far corner.
Arsenal were in complete control and midway through the half they came within inches of adding a third when Podolski hit the bar with a fierce effort from the edge of the area. Moments later, Yaya Sanogo was put through by Joel Campbell but had a shot blocked with Oxlade-Chamberlain in space to his right.
It is no exaggeration to say the visitors could have been four goals up by the 25-minute mark - and with their margin of victory potentially proving decisive to their fate at this point, it added an extra layer of intrigue to the night.
Their third, from Ramsey, was nothing less than a thing of beauty.
It is hard to emphasise just how good the midfielder’s technique needed to be as he raced on to volley a corner that had been headed clear to the edge of the area. With one sweeping swish of his left foot, he directed a stunning drive into the top corner that even brought the partisan home crowd to their feet in appreciation, such was the majesty of the strike.
It was a glorious way to cap off a fine first half as the Gunners made good on their promise to deliver the response the manager had demanded.
Wenger shuffled his pack at the interval, bringing on Gedion Zelalem and Ainsley Maitland-Niles for their Champions League debuts in place of Mathieu Flamini and Ramsey.
The visitors continued to pass the ball about nicely, but with Galatasaray noticeably upping their game in an effort to avoid a hammering, they could not maintain the dominance they had in the opening 45 minutes.
In fact, the hosts started to fashion the better chances as they sought to turn the tide. Sneijder, peripheral in the first half, sent one fierce effort curling just wide of the far post before Bruma crashed a shot over the bar.
Having been underemployed in the first half, suddenly Arsenal’s defenders were put under some pressure, with Per Mertesacker having to make a superb block inside the six-yard box to deny Bulut.
But despite a late consolation from Sneijder, it could not take the gloss off an encouraging evening’s work, with Stefan O’Connor becoming the second Arsenal player of the night to make his full debut.
Podolski scored right at the death after a neat passing move to cap off an enjoyable night’s work for the Gunners.
Mission complete, response delivered. Now they must wait to find out the identity of their last-16 opponents as they continue their European campaign.
Referee: David Fernández Borbalán
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