After a sub-par performance against Tottenham in last Saturday’s North London Derby and injuries to Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta, expectations of Arsenal fans heading into today’s Champions League clash with Galatasaray were understandably muted.
What a reward it was, then, when the Gunners provided one of their most stunning performances of the season on Wednesday, dismantling Group D opponents Galatasaray 4-1 behind a Danny Welbeck hat-trick and a clinical strike from Alexis Sanchez.
Arsenal began like a house on fire with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain streaking down the right side, Sanchez cutting in off the left and Welbeck eager to exploit space behind defenders. And it was the Englishman who got his side off the mark in the 22nd minute when Sanchez drew in the Gala defense and slipped a perfectly weighted pass to Welbeck, who stabbed his shot past an onrushing Fernando Muslera.
For as good as Arsenal were in attack, Gala were equally poor in defense. Perhaps this was no better evidenced than by Aurelien Chedjou whose misjudged header at half-field lead to Welbeck’s second goal of the night. Anticipating Chedjou’s error, Welbeck sped past Felipe Melo – who was also at fault in the opening strike – and opened his hips well to fire past Muslera into the bottom corner.
In full control, Arsenal didn’t take their foot off the gas committing five men – Welbeck, Sanchez, Chamberlain, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla – to the attack at all opportunities. With the Gala defense in sixes-and-sevens, the visiting fans showed their displeasure by unleashing a handful of flares onto the pitch. After a brief delay and a calming by Wesley Sneijder the Turkish fans settled in only for Arsenal to take a 3-0 lead minutes later.
This time it was the lively Sanchez, who linked up with Mesut Ozil before finishing low and hard past Muslera. If the half-time lead had Arsenal fans happy, Welbeck’s hat-trick in the 52nd minute put them into sheer delirium. Collecting the ball on the left side, Welbeck played the ball inside before finding space behind the Gala centerbacks to meet Chamberlain’s weighted pass and dink his effort over Muslera’s head.
The ensuing appreciation from the Arsenal fans was impossible to miss:
“He scores when he wants! He scores when he waaaaaants… Danny Welbeck! He scores when he wants!”
The floodgates looked to be open for Arsenal but on the hour Wojciech Szczesny crashed through Gala striker Burak Yılmaz, leading to a straight red card and a penalty. It was a rash decision from the Polish keeper, who should’ve done better to hold his line despite the temptation to cut down the angle. Arsene Wenger removed Sanchez for David Ospina, who went the wrong way on Yilmaz’ penalty.
Down a man but up on confidence, the Gunners focused on maintaining possession in the final stages of the match. Yilmaz nearly found his brace on a stunning header with 10 minutes to play but Ospina was up to the task with a diving effort and two minutes later Welbeck nearly created his fourth but was unable to convert. At the end of the day it was a stunning display from Arsenal who hardly looked troubled in defense and were well-served by the sensational pace and incision of Welbeck and Sanchez.