Arsene Wenger could scarcely have scripted it better. On the occasion of the 18th anniversary of his Arsenal appointment and needing a victory after the loss at Borussia Dortmund in the opening day of this Champions League, he watched his players turn on the attacking style to inflict something of a humiliation on Galatasaray.
Arsenal team v Galatasaray: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck.
Arsenal subs: Ospina, Coquelin, Bellerin, Rosicky, Wilshere, Campbell, Podolski.
Danny Welbeck was the star turn, helping himself to a hat-trick – each one a perfectly crafted finish – to kickoff his career at Arsenal but he was supported by a beautifully balanced performance from the midfield, in which Mesut Özil, Alexis Sánchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla vied for the top billing.
Arsenal being Arsenal, there was a blot and it came when the goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, a virtual bystander up until the 60th minute, left his line to clatter into Burak Yilmaz. He was punished with a red card and a penalty, which Burak scored. There was the added disappointment of Wenger having to sacrifice Sánchez to introduce the replacement goalkeeper, David Ospina. Sánchez steamed as he walked off, very slowly.
But it was a night of positives for Arsenal and Welbeck, albeit against opponents who only seemed to turn up in the final 15 minutes, and it has fired the confidence ahead of Sunday’s visit to Chelsea.
Wenger wanted to see the cutting edge and Welbeck provided it, demonstrating ruthlessness with the team’s first clear chance and not looking back thereafter. Arsenal had a total of only five shots on target; they enjoyed quite the success rate.
The opening goal highlighted the incisiveness of Sánchez, who was back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench against Tottenham on Saturday, and the movement of Welbeck. Sánchez’s pass was perfectly weighted and it ushered in Welbeck on Fernando Muslera’s goal. He was beaten through his legs.
Welbeck meant business. He ran quickly and directly at Galatasaray’s creaking three-man back line while he even found time to track back and win the ball. He was everywhere and his second was an even better goal, when he exploited the right centre-back Aurélien Chedjou’s misdirected header to the full.
Welbeck was always likely to win the foot race with Felipe Melo but he showed strength to hold off the Brazilian before opening up his body once more to finish with his right foot. Moments later, Welbeck might have completed a first-half hat-trick only to shoot at the goalkeeper following Özil’s touch.
Goran Pandev blew an isolated Galatasaray chance but the visitors were rattled and Melo was fortunate not to see red when he jumped in with two feet to clean out Sánchez. He was booked by referee Gianluca Rocchi. It was a less-than-mellow yellow moment. The travelling fans promptly lit flares and threw six or seven of them onto the pitch, prompting Muslera and the captain Wesley Sneijder to appeal in front of them for calm.
The composure came from Arsenal and all of their attacking midfielders were polished, with Cazorla showing his versatility in a deeper role alongside Mathieu Flamini. Özil had a pleasing number of those silky smooth moments while Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sánchez packed a punch on the flanks.
Galatasaray had flickered in the early running when the left wing-back, Alex Telles, stormed forward, played a one-two and shot wide but Arsenal took a grip and they did not look like loosing it.
The third had been on board and it came when Özil took a pass from Oxlade-Chamberlain and released Sánchez up the inside left flank. Galatasaray knew the drill by now. Sánchez jinked inside onto his right foot to place the ball into the bottom right corner.
Cesare Prandelli, looked pin sharp in his Italian suit but he watched as his team and his formation, which featured Sneijder as a deep-lying playmaker, were ripped apart before the hour mark.
Galatasaray were reduced to chasing little more than pride in the second-half.
Oxlade-Chamberlain had gone close before he laid on Welbeck’s third with a precision pass. Welbeck got there before Muslera to execute a high-difficulty finish over him. Home fans singing, Welbeck scores when he wants.
The tie, though, finished with Cazorla being denied by a goal-line clearance. It was a night when everything clicked up front for Wenger.
FT at the Emirates:
Arsenal 4-1 Galatasaray