Arsenal will have work to do in order to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage following a scoreless draw at Besiktas on Tuesday night in the first leg of their play-off at the Inonu Stadium in Istanbul.
Both teams created chances, with Besiktas coming close through Demba Ba multiple times during an impressive first-half performance. After enduring a largely frustrating night, Arsenal nearly stole a victory in the closing moments through substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose shot was pushed onto the post.
The result means both teams can advance to the group stage with a win in next week's second leg. Though Arsenal will likely be favoured on home soil, the Turkish side only need to score in a draw to ensure progress.
The return leg is scheduled for next Wednesday at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium in London. First, though, the Gunners face a tricky trip to Everton on Saturday in the Premier League.
Arsenal are trying to reach the Champions League group stage for the 17th straight season, a run that had seen Arsene Wenger's side go undefeated in 12 previous play-off matches, per OptaJoe.
To extend that streak to 18 years, the Gunners will have to overcome the absence of midfield talisman Aaron Ramsey, who will miss the second leg after being sent off in the 80th minute for his second bookable offence. Arsenal also received an injury scare when captain Mikel Arteta left the match in the 50th minute.
Amid a hostile away atmosphere, Arsenal expected a determined start from their hosts. Within moments of the first whistle, Demba Ba nearly put the Turkish side ahead. Spotting Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny off his line at the opening kick-off, the former Chelsea striker drove an accurate shot from the halfway line. Szczesny momentarily looked beaten, but the Polish stopper scrambled back to paw away the shot, which was bound for the top corner.
Having survived an early scare, Arsenal's next task was to ride out the ensuing storm. As expected, Besiktas controlled the match in the opening moments and came close again through Ba, whose ninth-minute volley was saved.
Arsenal then began to gain a foothold. Olivier Giroud had the Gunners' first half-chance in the 10th minute, accepting a pass from Alexis Sanchez in front of the Besiktas goal. The French striker twisted and turned but couldn't release a clean shot on goal.
Sanchez set up another attack three minutes later, winning possession in the attacking third before passing to Santi Cazorla in the box. The latter cut toward goal before rolling a shot narrowly wide.
The biggest chance of the half fell to Ba one minute before the break. Taking advantage of a slip by Arsenal defender Calum Chambers—who was otherwise excellent—Ba raced in on Arsenal's goal before shooting wide under late pressure from Laurent Koscielny.
It was a let-off for Arsenal, who once again had to deal with a strong start from Besiktas after half-time. The hosts had another golden chance in the 48th minute after an Arsenal giveaway in midfield. Oguzhan Ozyakup threaded a pass through to free Olcay Sahan on the left, but after cutting inside to his right foot, Sahan curled his shot wide of the far post.
Arsenal had endured a frustrating night to that point, but the Gunners were soon without their captain as Arteta limped off in the 50th minute with an apparent ankle injury. Mathieu Flamini replaced him in midfield.
As full-time neared, Wenger made a change to Arsenal's attack by removing Sanchez for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 73rd minute. Besiktas coach Slaven Bilic responded by introducing Gokhan Tore in place of Sahan.
Arsenal came close in the 80th minute as Cazorla hit a powerful free-kick on target. The ball bounced dangerously in front of Besiktas goalkeeper Tolga Zengin, who bobbled the ball before holding at the second attempt.
Moments later, Arsenal went down to 10 men as Ramsey received his second yellow card for pulling back Ozyakup. The dismissal meant the visitors would have to endure a nervy final 10 minutes, but Oxlade-Chamberlain nearly won it for the Gunners with a moment of individual class in the 89th minute.
Cutting inside from the right flank, Oxlade-Chamberlain dribbled through traffic in the box before unleashing a shot on target. The ball seemed destined for the net, but Zengin reacted well to tip it onto the far upright before Ersan Gulum headed clear.
|Besiktas Player Ratings|
|Gokhan Tore (for Sahan, 73')||N/A||6.3|
|Kerim Koyunlu (for Ozyakup, 81')||N/A||6.3|
|Cenk Tosun (for Pektemek, 88')||N/A||No rating|
|Ratings via WhoScored.com|
|Arsenal Player Ratings|
|Mathieu Flamini (for Arteta, 50')||N/A||6.4|
|Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (for Sanchez, 73')||N/A||6.4|
|Tomas Rosicky (for Cazorla, 90')||N/A||No rating|
|Ratings via WhoScored.com|
Wenger said both teams had chances to win, telling Arsenal.com:
We always want to win but look, Besiktas could have won the game, and we could have won the game as well. Maybe a draw is a fair result because both teams had chances to win the game. We know Besiktas are a good team. We know the game will be certainly tight again, but we play at home. The task is clear for us, we want to win the game.
The Arsenal manager also commented on the referee's decision to send of Ramsey, saying: "I think neither the first or the second yellow card was deserved. When you see some of the fouls made tonight and we go home with Ramsey red carded, it's a bit unbelievable."
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