Champions League

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Arsenal bounces back, blanks Fener

Champions League: Recap of Arsenal's 3-0 victory Fenerbahce.
Champions League: Recap of Arsenal's 3-0 victory Fenerbahce.
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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Arsenal’s relief was palpable even through television screens thousands of miles away. The summer had been dreary, devoid of any meaningful additions to a squad plainly in need of a lot of them – in spite of the departure of a dozen or so first-teamers. The preseason wasn’t entirely convincing. And the season opener was shambolic, a 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa.

But the Gunners’ got their first foray into Europe this year right.

Handed a tough draw in Fenerbahce and facing a daunting trip to their deafening Sukru Saracoglu venue, Arsenal nevertheless rose above all the negativity, all the questions over the club’s direction, and resoundingly outplayed their hosts 3-0.

The Londoners were in control from the first whistle through the last, aided by the sloppiness of their opponents. A good rhythm produced some nice interplay between forwards Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud, but chances were scarce as the first half was fought mostly in midfield.

Walcott and Giroud got consecutive looks in the 19th minute, but the former couldn’t quite get onto the end of Santi Cazorla’s through ball and the latter wasn’t able to contort his body enough to re-direct Thomas Rosicky’s cross on frame. Not long thereafter, Aaron Ramsey dragged his shot just wide.

Fener, meanwhile, looked so clumsy that several Arsenal players accidentally took kicks to the face, highlighted by Pierre Webo’s game-ending crack to the head of Laurent Koscielny on his attempted bicycle kick.

It wasn’t until the 49th minute that the home side even crafted a chance when Dirk Kuyt ripped a shot just high. But it was the Gunners who broke the deadlock in the 51st. Ramsey played Walcott through deep in the penalty area and his square ball found Kieran Gibbs for the far-post tap-in.

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Walcott and Jack Wilshere neglected to double the score from point-blank range soon thereafter. But in the 64th, Ramsey picked the ball up in midfield, purposefully strode towards the box and smacked his effort past the flailing Volkan Demirel at the near post.

Several Moussa Sow efforts threatened to return Fenerbahce to contention. Yet all their hope of reaching the group stage was lost when Walcott skillfully brought down a long ball in the 76th minute and was summarily brought down by Michal Kadlec. Giroud converted the penalty cleanly.

Arsene Wenger was also happy to emerge unscathed from what he felt could have been a very difficult Arsene tie for the Gunners. "It was a banana skin because the atmosphere was very heated," said the manager. I think we controlled the game and, of course, we wanted a great response after the disappointment on Saturday.

"We are now in a strong position but we want to finish the job next Tuesday. We could have been a little bit shaky after what happened on Saturday, so for us it was very important to start on the front foot. That was vital tonight for us and we did it well."

The result all but sees Arsenal through to the tournament proper. It also saves UEFA the potential awkwardness of having to remove a team from the UEFA Champions League group stage if the Court of Arbitration for Sport upholds its continental ban of Fenerbahce for the season on account of match-fixing on appeal.

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