THERE was a moment during the first-half blitz that Arsenal staged here, when they led by three goals and the chances continued to flow, that the most outlandish thought flashed through the minds of the romantics. Could ArsÃ¨ne Wengerâ€™s team yet win by the six-goal margin that, coupled with a Borussia Dortmund draw against Anderlecht, would have seen them advance into the Champions League last-16 as the Group D winners?
They could have led by the required scoreline at half-time, such was the pace, power and penetration of their game and so bedraggled were Galatasaray. There were plenty of things for Arsenal to savour, chiefly Aaron Ramseyâ€™s magnificent long-range strike that made it 3-0 before the half-hour. Even the Galatasaray fans were moved to applause.
Wenger said that he had dreamed the dream. â€œI did not think so at the start of the game but at half-time, yes,â€ the manager said, of the prospect of 6-0. The notion drifted away on the Istanbul breeze in the second-half, particularly after he had been forced to substitute Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini at half-time. They had felt hamstring and calf niggles respectively and, with the Premier League visit of Newcastle United on Saturday in mind, caution had to be the watchword. Wenger said that both of the midfielders ought to be fit.
His lineup had been studded with players with little football in their legs and Wenger felt that there was the loss of steam in the second-half. There was no defeat for Dortmund, meaning that Arsenal qualified, as expected, in second place. The London club will seek to avoid a fifth successive exit at the last-16 and the big beasts lie in wait.
But Wenger could take heart for the battles ahead in the manner of the response to Saturdayâ€™s 3-2 loss at Stoke City, which had come with all of the usual accoutrements of a bad Arsenal loss. They took Galatasaray apart in the first-half and, as they swept forward in waves, it was extremely enjoyable. At times, Arsenal seemed to be toying with their hosts.
Wengerâ€™s selection had been influenced by the number of his players in need of rest and the assumption that Dortmund would not lose. It was the smart-money bet to prioritise the Newcastle game. But his scratch side was more than up to scratch and they took charge at the outset, showing a cutting edge to expose Galatasarayâ€™s glaring defensive deficiencies.
Lukas Podolski was the fringe player who grasped the opportunity most clearly and the opening goal was one of his trademarks â€“ a left-footer ripper into the near, top corner of Sinan Bolatâ€™s net, following Ramseyâ€™s burst and pass. Goalkeepers are not supposed to be beaten at their near posts but Sinan was overwhelmed by the power and accuracy.
The second came from a similar area â€“ the space between Tarik Camdal and Semih Kaya on the right of the Galatasaray defence â€“ although this time, it was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain driving forward, beyond the home teamâ€™s non-existent defensive midfield protection. He played in Ramsey and he finished calmly into the far corner. The home crowd complained about the non-award of a foul in the build-up by Podolski on Tarik.
This magnificent, vertiginous stadium is normally rocking hours before kick-off but it was a different vibe here, with Galatasaray already resigned to their fate as the holders of the wooden spoon. It only looked to be a third full, which made an even bigger mockery of the crazy pre-match traffic. In Istanbul, nothing is certain apart from death, taxes and traffic.
The decibel levels did rise sharply on occasions, such as when Hakan Balta produced a centre-backâ€™s finish in the eighth minute when gloriously placed or when Flamini was late on Bruma to pick up a booking. The Spanish referee, David BorbalÃ¡n, raised local hackles with a few decisions.
But it was no exaggeration to say that Arsenal threatened with every forward thrust in the first-half. The space that they were afforded was extraordinary and it was simple, low balls in behind Galatasaray that carved the home side open time and again.
Podolski rattled the crossbar and he drew a fine save out of Sinan while Yaya Sanogo and Joel Campbell each went close before Ramsey scored the third. It was a beauty; a first-time, left-footed rocket into the top corner from 35 yards after a corner had been headed out towards him and he had twisted to get his body shape right. â€œI felt that it was not the right decision to shoot but he proved me wrong,â€ Wenger said.
Campbell was denied by Sinan at close quarters while Calum Chambers headed over the crossbar. Arsenal were rampant. The tempo, though, was slower in the second-half, as Wenger blooded his next generation. Gedion Zelalem showed his smooth technique while Ainsley Maitland-Niles was sturdy in front of the back four. Stefan Oâ€™Connor also made his bow in place of the right-back, Mathieu Debuchy, who came through his first action in three months.
Galatasaray were better after the interval and they deserved their late consolation, which came from Wesley Sneijderâ€™s vicious free-kick. Umut Bulut had earlier been denied by Per Mertesackerâ€™s saving tackle. The last word, however, went to Podolski, when he sauntered through to roll the ball into the corner. – The Guardian