Arsenal had to start it’s 2014/15 UEFA Champions League campaign in the final playoff stage, that’s what happens when you finish fourth in the EPL. It also means you run the risk of not getting the mega-payday that is reaching the Champions League group stage.
On Tuesday, Arsenal began it’s campaign by visiting Istanbul-based Besiktas. Besides the horrific off-field history between English and Turkish clubs, a visit to the passionate Turkish capital is never an easy affair.
That much was proved on Tuesday, as Arsenal were held to an unexpected 0-0 draw against a club that finished last season third in the Turkish Süper Lig. What was also proved in that nil-nil draw was that Arsenal weren’t even close to solving the issue that kept it from winning the EPL last season—scoring.
It’s little secret that putting the ball in the back of the net was a major issue holding Arsenal back last season, and has been a thorn in the side of the club for a few years now. Finishing fourth in goals scored (68), compared to champions Manchester City’s total of 102, is exactly why the side ended up fourth in the EPL standings.
That’s why Arsene Wenger went out and spent some good money on striker Alexis Sanchez during this summer’s transfer window. Sanchez, who was transferred from Barcelona for £32 million following a stellar showing at the World Cup and for the Catalonian club previously.
He did net 19 goals in 27 appearances for Barcelona in La Liga competition last season.
Problem is, Sanchez hasn’t provided much of that scoring so far in his early days at Arsenal, and he isn’t getting a lot of help early on in the season either. Sure, he did provide an assist in Arsenal’s EPL opener, but let’s be real…it was against Crystal Palace.
It’s a bit perplexing because we saw a glimpse of the brilliance that could be the combination of Sanchez and forward Oliver Giroud in the FA Community Shield match. Arsenal won it 3-0 over an admittedly weaker Manchester City squad and did so on the strength of nice combination play between the two.
However, that type of play was few and far between against a Besiktas squad that was far from packing it in. See Demba Ba’s first second shot from midfield, or the fact that during the second half there were plenty of chances for the home squad to make this a really bitter trip for the supposed better side.
Besiktas kept pace with Arsenal all game long, equalling them in shots (8) and having the better of possession (53% to 47%). However, either squad could have left Istanbul the happier side with a ball in the back of the net.
Arsenal saw five shots on goal fail to get beyond Besiktas’ Tolga Zengin, who was forced in to a few good saves. Yet, the quality of chances were highlighted by just one effort from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the final moments. He sent a great shot across the face of Zengin, only to see the keeper get a hand on it and push it to the post.
It was yet another chance denied, and another moment indicative of a team that has all the class to score goals in spades, but finds it difficult to do it in games that matter the most.
Yes, it is early days and Arsenal clearly have some goals in them. However, results against the most challenging teams they’ve seen this year indicate the problems that were there last season haven’t been solved just yet.
Tuesday’s results were about as bad as they could’ve been, and it’s up to Sanchez and the rest of Arsenal’s starting squad to find a way to push forward with their backs squarely against the wall next Wednesday.