After a bruising encounter in Istanbul on Tuesday, Arsenal are feeling relieved to be taking Besiktas back to the Emirates on level terms for the second-leg of their UEFA Champions League play-off next Wednesday.
That said, the Gunners have plenty to complain about and they aren’t keeping quiet.
Inspirational midfielder Aaron Ramsey will miss the pivotal second leg — everything is left to play for after a 0-0 draw which saw both sides squander glorious chances — after being sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes from the end of a feisty affair. His second yellow did seem rather harsh as he was adjudged to have tugged at the shirt of Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup but contact looked minimal.
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Plenty of meaty challenges flew in from Slaven Billic’s side (the former Croatian national team manager was sent to the stands for protesting against referee Milorad Mazic) in the second half and Gunners captain Mike Arteta sustained an ankle injury which will keep him on the sidelines. Adding insult to injury, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger had a bottle thrown at him by rowdy home fans at the final whistle, as the Gunners couldn’t wait to get out of Istanbul and back to North London.
Speaking after the match, Wenger had the following to say about the Ramsey’s red card, the rough tackling and being targeted personally by the Turkish fans.
“Neither the first nor the second yellow card was deserved [for Ramsey],” Wenger said. “When you see some of the fouls made tonight and we go home with Ramsey red-carded, it’s a bit unbelievable. The challenge on Arteta was very bad but the referee was on the pitch and didn’t see anything of it. It’s very difficult to understand but, in the second half, the performance of the referee was very bad. As I left the pitch a bottle or something was thrown at me. I reported the incident to Uefa.”
It isn’t the first time, and won’t be the last, that Wenger has harsh words to say about the officiating.
All in all, not a great night for Arsenal. They will still fancy their chances of advancing to the UCL group stages for the 17th straight season with the second leg against Besiktas to come at home, however this trip to Turkey will leave a sour taste in the mouth. Besiktas’ manager Billic was unsure if he would be sanctioned for his own actions as Arsenal’s trip to the Ataturk Stadium was far from a uneventful one. With Demba Ba causing plenty of problems up top for the Turkish outfit, they will head to North London next week in a one-off match to decide which side will compete in the UCL group stages this season with a massive cash windfall on the lines.
Arsenal fans, are you nervous?
On Tuesday we saw first hand how incredible atmospheres are created by the locals at the best of times in Turkey, but especially for clashes against English sides. Galatasaray’s fans used to welcome Manchester United’s players to Istanbul by throwing rocks at the team bus, holding up signs saying “Welcome to Hell” and after two Leeds United fans were stabbed to death in Istanbul ahead of a UEFA Cup semifinal in 2000, tension between supporters from the two nations have been high ever since.
That tension boiled over onto the pitch and into the dugouts on Tuesday as Arsenal are certainly not home and dry against Besiktas with everything to play for in the return leg at the Emirates next Wednesday.