Arsenal entered the second leg of the playoff round in Champions League play against Fenerbahçe with a three-goal lead from their victory in Istanbul six days ago. Arsenal won 2-0 in front of their home crowd to win 5-0 on aggregate scoring to advance to their 16th straight campaign in the group stage. But with little importance on the actual outcome of the second leg (Fenerbahçe would’ve needed to win 0-3 at Emirates stadium to force penalty kicks or 4-1 for an outright win — an unlikely outcome), there was still plenty at stake for Arsène Wenger’s squad.
Wojciech Szczęsny was given the start at goalkeeper ahead of Łukasz Fabiański; the two are in a battle for the first shirt. Szczęsny has started each game this season so far for Wenger, but the Frenchman declared it an open position. The 23-year-old Szczęsny has shown the ability to make impressive plays around the net, but at times makes foolish decisions. The more experienced Fabiański is less of an athlete and injury-prone, but more wise with his decision-making.
The play of midfielder Aaron Ramsey in both legs was inspiring, especially for a club desperate for offensive leadership. Ramsey is not the answer, but the 22-year-old Welsh footballer could be a great weapon in the offense for Wenger. His three goals in the two legs against Fenerbahçe continued his success against the Turkish club (his first goal with the Gunners was against Fenerbahçe in 2008). In Arsenal’s only league win of the season, a 1-3 win over Fulham, Ramsey paced the Gunners on offense with tactical passing all over the field and even assisting on an Olivier Giroud goal that was more of a deflection from Ramsey’s pass.
An unfortunate injury to begin the second half may have put a damper on the Gunners win. Lukas Podolski was attempting a shot on goal when he came up lame with his left hamstring. At first it looked to be a strain, but the German forward was unable to walk off the pitch on his own power and it could be much worse than expected. The loss of Podolski, who has scored two goals on the season already (both against Fulham) for any amount of time, would be a tremendous loss for the Gunners — especially if they don’t bring in help before September 2 transfer deadline.
Yaya Sanogo was inserted into the game at the 60-minute mark. The 20-year-old French striker is the only transfer brought in by Wenger this offseason so far and has proven in league’s past to be worthy of an elite goal scorer title. Playing the top flight is a different platform not yet experienced by Sanogo, and it showed. He looked tentative with every touch but showed impressive speed and ability to get into good position. With more time under his belt, he could develop into a strong option for Wenger.
The 5-0 aggregate win over Fenerbahçe had its good moments and several iffy ones, but that is the Arsenal way. This weekend’s match against Tottenham Hotspur in Premier League play could be without Podolski, which could hurt their ability to fight off a club that is, like Arsenal, going to be fighting for a Champions League berth next season.