Arsenal 4 Galatasaray 1
On the 18th anniversary of his appointment as manager of Arsenal, Arsene Wenger admitted — like a donkey chasing a carrot — he is still waiting for "the perfect day" and still addicted to thinking only about the future.
So perhaps it is just as well goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was sent off against Galatasaray just as his manager was about to sink his teeth into a carrot brought ever nearer by a hat-trick from Danny Welbeck.
Welbeck’s goals, all exquisitely taken, plus a strike from Alexis Sanchez secured a 4-1 victory that relieves the pressure on Arsenal in Group D having lost their opening fixture to Borussia Dortmund.
Some eyebrows were raised when Wenger shelled out €20m for Welbeck in January but the former Manchester United striker is happy to be repaying that faith.
“He’s shown a lot of faith in me and I’m delighted to pay him back tonight,” he said.
“Just giving me the chance to play football up front in my preferred position, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure he’s happy.”
Importantly, too, last night’s result comes just days before Arsenal travel to Chelsea for a crucial Premier League fixture on Sunday and makes a mockery of some of the criticism his newly re-designed team have had to endure in the early weeks of the season.
Much of that negativity followed a poor performance in Dortmund, a match in which Welbeck was heavily criticised for missing chances and in which Mesut Ozil was branded anonymous. Since then, however, Arsenal’s response has been good.
An Ozil-inspired victory at Aston Villa was followed by an entertaining come-from-behind draw against Tottenham, and now a comprehensive victory over Turkish champions Galatasaray in which Ozil and Welbeck were both outstanding.
It was the first hat-trick of Welbeck’s professional career and, more than that, his overall performance and link-up play was excellent.
It wouldn’t be Arsenal, however, if something didn’t go wrong in a Champions League fixture. So just when it seemed a perfect result was on the cards, Szczesny brought down Yilmaz as he broke free in the penalty area after 60 minutes and was duly — and deservedly — sent off. It means he will miss the next match, against Anderlecht on October 22.
The incident quickly brought to mind Wenger’s match-day programme notes, in which he refused to reflect on his 18 years at the club.
“I prefer to always look forward rather than back,” he said. “It’s how I am. In my job, you get a bit addicted to the future. You always think that tomorrow will finally be the perfect day. You get a bit addicted because you’re never completely happy with the last time, and you think that you will get it right with the next game. It’s a little bit like a donkey who walks behind the carrot — you always think you will get it this time.
“But what is amazing is that I never lose that hope. I’m an optimist who refuses to look back. I know that what is in front of me is so important that I have no time to look back.”
The next game for Arsenal is at Stamford Bridge on Sunday — against former Gunners hero Cesc Fabregas as well as Wenger’s old foe Jose Mourinho — so looking ahead is sensible. But Arsenal fans will still want to wallow a little in a performance against Galatasaray that had a lot to admire until a crazy last half-hour.
Sanchez, playing on the left and cutting in on his right foot, was excellent for instance, while Ozil in a more central role provided real creativity from deep. But it was Welbeck who stole the show with his goals, running on to a Sanchez pass after 22 minutes to dink a shot between the legs of goalkeeper Fernando Musiera. His second was even more sweetly finished, heading past his marker, powering towards the area and then opening his body Thierry Henry-style to calmly shoot into the far corner.
Sanchez, taking advantage of a wonderful Ozil pass, cut inside to score the third before Welbeck completed his hat-trick with a superbly-dinked first-time finish.
Sczczesny’s sending-off, and the subsequent penalty scored by Yilmaz, set up an unnecessarily nervy finale in which some of Arsenal’s defending was once again called into question. But Welbeck continued to be a menace on the break — while Santi Cazorla had a late effort cleared off the line — and this was not really a day for negativity.
Despite those frantic late moments, with David Ospina in goal, Arsenal can now go to Stamford Bridge high on confidence and boosted by news that Theo Walcott and Serge Gnabry will both be back in full training next week after long-term injuries.
Wenger, then, is right to retain his optimistic outlook; a victory against Chelsea would bring that carrot tantalisingly close once again.
ARSENAL: Szczesny 6, Chambers 7, Mertesacker 6, Koscielny 7, Gibbs 6, Flamini 7, Cazorla 7, Ozil 7 (Wilshere 77), Sanchez 8 (Ospina 62; 6), Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Rosicky 68; 6), Welbeck 9.
Subs not used: Campbell, Coquein, Bellerin.
GALATASARAY: Musiera 5, Chedjou 6,Felipe Melo 5, Kaya 6, Alex Telles 6, Dzemaili 5, Sneijder 5, Yekta Kurtulus 5 (Atlintop 46; 6), Pandev 6 (Bruma 69), Burak Yilaz 7, Sari (Bulut 69; 6)
Subs not used: Bolat, Adin, Camdal.
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (Italy)
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