20 August 2014

Can we beat Beşiktaş? Will this draw goad Arsène into action?

Phew. We escaped with a draw from a match we arguably deserved to lose, and we'll be licking wounds as we limp back home with a tough trip to Goodison Park looming on Saturday, while now having to look past that to a second leg even more fraught with uncertainty than it should have been. The away-goals rule now tilts in Beşiktaş's favor, and we should be counting our blessings that we've come away in such blessed shape. The run of play went largely Beşiktaş's way, and they had the lion's share of best-chances. Whereas many clubs would be thrilled to emerge with a draw against Arsenal, Beşiktaş strikes me as being made of sterner stuff.

We tend to worry 'round these parts about set-pieces. Now, I don't think that a match's opening kick-off is a set-piece in the sense that we usually use the term, but Demba Ba very nearly put Beşiktaş up moments into the match when he lofted the kick-off towards our goal, and Wojciech Szczęsny, who was blithely drifting around the penalty-spot, had to scramble to get fingers to it and deflect it off the bar. Sadly, this wouldn't be the last time in the match that we'd be left ruing how we missed out on Ba, whatever the circumstances were. Suffice it to say, Ba tested Szcz on more than that occasion while Giroud failed to do the same at the other end (if we start saying "he Giroud-ed that" to describe a wasted chance six yards from goal, do we pronounce the silent "d" at the end of his name? Francophones, please oblige us).

Beyond that issue, it's hard to say that we went in with the same purpose or confidence that we showed in our last trip to Istanbul, when we hung three goals on Fener in that first leg a year ago. For long stretches, we were stymied, at times even overrun, as we struggled to find any kind of rhythm or intent. Cazorla and Alexis were impressive but not convincing, Giroud flubbed chance after chance, and Ramsey, our most-talismanic player of last season, "earned" a second yellow in the 81st minute and will miss next Wednesday's match. Rather than dwell on the match itself, a dour and depressing affair, I'd prefer to look ahead.

While admitting that we don't know the details, it seemingly took a shocking loss to Aston Villa to force Arsène to bring in Mesut Özil (a move that, for as much as we mocked them for it, was probably only possible after Spurs sold Bale). In other words, even our most-audacious transfer of living memory came as a result of a shock-loss and a rival comic foil's transfer-business. I don't know what Arsène is thinking, but there's a rather large part of me that hopes that this first-leg draw will jolt him into action much as the loss to Aston Villa seemed to do. No, 0-0 is not nearly as shocking as 1-3; then again, facing elimination from Champions League play is far-more frightening than one shock-result from 38 fixtures. Lose your first Prem match, and you still have 37 others to somehow make up the lost points. Lose the Champions League play-off, and you're done. It's not that we can sign someone and have him available for the second-leg; the dead-line for the 25-player squad has already passed. However, if we do advance, we could add a new player (or, ahem, two) for the group-stage squad.

We've seen first-hand how much a player like Ba can threaten. We've seen plenty of times how often a player like Giroud can infuriate. It's abundantly clear that we need someone up top who can make good on the chances created by those behind him. Ba doesn't even really qualify as "world class". He's certainly not on a level with Costa, Cavani, or other top-shelf strikers to whom we've been linked. And yet, he showed tonight a bit of what we're lacking: a striker who can put shots on frame, if not in the back of the net. How much better might we be with someone marginally better than Giroud? Tuesday's result forces us to consider the question yet again.

The definition of insanity is, of course, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. How many more times will we expect Giroud to produce a result different from the one he's produced time and time again?