Beşiktaş stymied by Arsenal in goalless draw
ISTANBUL - Agence France-Presse
Beşiktaş's new signing Demba Ba was close to scoring one of the most peculiar goals in recent years with his shot seconds after kick off. AA PhotoArsenal on Aug. 19 survived the test of a raucous Istanbul crowd and a hugely-energized Besiktas side to leave Turkey with a goalless draw and their hopes intact of advancing to the Champions League group stage.
In the first leg of the Champions League play-off, Arsenal failed to score the all-important away goal but will be relieved to have escaped from Istanbul with a 0-0 scoreline and still every hope they will qualify in the home leg.
However, the only sour note was they ended the match with 10 men as key Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey was sent off 10 minutes from time.
The prospect of entry into the lucrative group stages of the Champions League dynamized Besiktas, who came third in the Turkish league last season under Croatian manager Slaven Bilic. Helped by the noisy, partisan home crowd, Besiktas caused the London side trouble from the start with new signing Demba Ba a potent threat.
Everything was at stake for Arsenal who came into the game with a 100 percent record in Champions League play-offs, having played 12 and won 12. For manager Arsene Wenger, failing to make the lucrative group stage of Europe's elite club competition for a 17th consecutive campaign would be nothing short of a disaster.
Wenger had said he was tempted to field German World Cup-winning trio Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski for the first time this season given the potential difficulty of the tie but in the end opted to leave them out.
Beşiktaş are in the process of rebuilding their mythical home stadium on the shores of the Bosphorus that separates Europe and Asia so the match took place at the cavernous 80,000 capacity Ataturk Olympic Stadium in the far less romantic suburbs of Istanbul.
But the home fans treated Arsenal to the traditional - and notorious - Istanbul hostile welcome for foreign sides of deafening whistling, smoke flares and taunts as the handful of Gunners fans, who made the trip, looked on mutely.
The home side had no problem creating chances but failed to land the clinical blow in front of goal that could have left Arsenal's early season in tatters.
Arsenal appeared caught off their guard by a bright start by the hosts with goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny's defense tested repeatedly in the first minutes and Besiktas enjoyed much the best of the first 45 minutes.
The quicksilver Senegalese Ba, Besiktas's flagship summer signing from Chelsea, went close in the ninth minute with a volley that forced a fine save from Szczesny.
But Arsenal sought to keep Beskitas in check by holding possession and taking the sting out of the crowd's malice. Yet Besiktas kept looking to find holes in the Arsenal defense with Veli Kavlak forcing another save from Szczesny on the half hour. A lively end to the second half saw Ramsey test Tolga Zengin in the Besiktas goal while Ba sent a fine chance wide.
Beşiktaş began the second half with the same aggressive approach and a brilliant run by Olcay Şahan into open space ended with him curling his shot wide to cries of disbelief from the increasingly impatient crowd.
But in a testy second half that lacked the sparkle of the first, Arsenal could also make no headway past the solid Beşiktaş defense and the Istanbul side scrambled to thwart English attacks before heading out on the break.
In a frantic final few minutes as Beşiktaş clearly tired, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain hit the post for Arsenal and goalkeeper Zengin was lucky the ball did not rebound off him into the net.
Wenger furious with referee
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger acknowledged that his side's goalless draw with Beşiktaş was a fair result for a "difficult" game but blasted the performance of the referee.
The Serbian referee Milorad Mazic sent off Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey for a second bookable offence, neither of which an angry Wenger said were justified.
"I think neither the first nor the second yellow card was deserved for Ramsey," Wenger told reporters. "When you see some of the fouls committed and you go home with a red card for Ramsey it is somewhat unbelievable.
"In the second half the performance of the referee was very bad," he said, noting that infringements by Beşiktaş went unpunished. Wenger - whose 100 percent win record in Champions League play-off matches came to an end after 12 wins in 12 - described the game as a "difficult match played at a high pace" and praised the opposition for playing at "100 percent."
Asked how he felt with the result, Wenger said he thought it a fair outcome from a tough game.
"We always want to win, but look, Beşiktai could have won the game and maybe we could have won. "Maybe a draw is a fair result as both teams had chances to win the game."
On the return leg in London, he said: "We know that Beşiktaş is a good team, we know the game will be tight, but task is clear." Wenger expressed admiration for Slaven Bilic's side - the Croatian was himself sent to the stands in the dying minutes for protesting at a failure to penalize an Arsenal player for a foul on one of his team. "We faced a very good Besiktas team tonight. Their commitment was fantastic."