Arsenal Still Have It All to Do Against Besiktas

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2014

Arsenal's Champions League play-off will effectively come down to one 90-minute match. After the 0-0 draw in Turkey, Arsenal know they must win in the return leg at the Emirates Stadium to ensure progression to the group stage.

The Gunners will leave with a few regrets. They had a few tantalising opportunities to win the game. In the first half, Olivier Giroud couldn't make sufficient contact with an attractive chance. In the latter stages of the second, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ended a dazzling run by firing against a post.

However, this wasn't a game that Arsenal dominated. Besiktas had opportunities of their own. Straight from kick-off, Demba Ba tested Wojciech Szczesny with an audacious effort on goal. He also forced the Pole into action with a smart volley shortly afterward.

Ba has a decent record against Arsenal from his time in English football and seemed absolutely determined to add to it on this occasion.

The Turkish outfit will be relatively satisfied with the outcome. They know now that a score draw at the Emirates will be enough to secure safe passage to the group stage.

That will allow them to play a careful game in London, keeping men behind the ball and looking to catch Arsenal on the break.

The onus is on the Gunners to go and win the game. In a way, that will suit them. At present, Arsenal look better going forward than at the back. In his Champions League debut, Calum Chambers' inexperience was occasionally visible.

Although Per Mertesacker might be back in time for the second leg, the Arsenal back four may still be vulnerable without the departed Bacary Sagna.

Come the second match, the midfield may have an unfamiliar feel about it, too. Captain Mikel Arteta had to be substituted with an injury problem, and his status for the return game is unknown.

What's certain is that Aaron Ramsey will miss out: The Welshman was sent off for a second booking as the game approached its close.

Ramsey's red card was born of pure frustration. Arsenal struggled to get their conventional free-flowing attacking game going in this match. The hangover from the World Cup seems to have continued for longer than anticipated.

Gunners fans are still waiting to see the best of the likes of Alexis Sanchez, who is still growing accustomed to his new team-mates. Olivier Giroud, meanwhile, still seems to be easing off the rust accumulated during his post-Brazil lay-off. 

Everything is still to play for in this tie. By the time Arsenal face Besiktas again, they will have another Premier League game under their belt. A win at Everton would induce the confidence needed to dispatch the Turkish team.

However, the situation is precarious. A disappointing result at the weekend would leave Arsenal's morale perilously low.

The importance of Champions League football cannot be underestimated. The return leg may only be a qualifier, but it will feel as if it has all the significance of a final.

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report’s lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here.


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