Arsenal's offensive woes show need for reinforcements
A familiar result for Arsenal, as they reached the Champions League for the 17th successive season, but also a familiar feeling.
This match summed up the overriding sense from so many of those seasons, particularly the last six: Arsene Wenger's side creditably got the job done in the end, but not without leaving some eternally recurring questions.
On this occasion, none of those questions really concern the team. They were admirably defiant on what was a difficult and tense night. Instead, the questions concern this ongoing transfer policy, and the manner in which they made this night all the more difficult and tense.
It comes down to this: If Arsenal had another full striker other than Olivier Giroud, then they might have wrapped up this game long before Besiktas made it so anxious. This is not to criticise the creditable Alexis Sanchez, who was ultimately so important to this victory, not least for his vital goal.
The new signing had to play outside his best role at wing, and well off his peak form. He was not the only one. Mesut Ozil was forced to fill in on the left even though he looked like a player who had enjoyed just a week and a half's proper preseason. The midfield had to just about hold together in the absence of Mikel Arteta, with Arsenal still crying out for an enforcer of a more elite level than both the Basque player and Mathieu Flamini.
All of that made for an occasion in which Arsenal had to really dig in. In the circumstances, it was difficult not to praise both teams. The supremely organised Besiktas were hugely unfortunate but the home side would have been equally unfortunate had they not gone through.
It produced some postgame emotions that were unusually extreme for this early stage of the season. Besiktas' players had to be consoled, Arsenal's sank to the turf in relief. Wenger pumped his fists when the final whistle finally blew.
It was that kind of night, until we saw that type of news conference. Wenger turned from elated to playfully elusive all too quickly, as he was inevitably asked about a series of potential signings. All of those named were strikers, of course, after the confirmation that Olivier Giroud will be out for at least three to four months with a fractured tibia.
The first name put forward was inevitable if not entirely serious.
Nikola Zigic? "Who?" Wenger asked.
A story had emerged during the week that the veteran Serbian striker was a surprise target. It was unsurprisingly knocked down.
Manchester United's Danny Welbeck? "No."
Midfielder Alex Song? "Alex Song will not come back."
What about Radamel Falcao, is he in your price range? This time, there was a smile. "No."
That smile, and that type of denial, has been seen before. It usually precedes a purchase, and Wenger did not rule one out.
It is needed. Although the Arsenal manager tried to maintain that it would be foolish to buy every time you have an injury, Giroud's is not exactly a normal absence. They have also needed an extra option up front since long before the French forward suffered his knock against Everton at the weekend.
Wenger of course pointed to Sanchez, and many might do the same, especially after his key goal Wednesday night.
"I bought him to play striker, not to play only on the flanks," the Arsenal manager maintained.
The issue is that Alexis is usually at his best arriving from deep and running onto through balls, rather than playing as that Giroud-type focal point. For a long time, it conditioned Arsenal's unproductive play, as they looked exactly like what they were throughout a frustrating first half: A team with a lot of attacking midfielders and off-the-frontman forwards, who were excellent until they worked the ball to the edge of the opposition area. That was the story of the first 43 minutes.
Arsenal were impressively fast, but then not sharp enough in the box. Crosses in there were pointless, the side themselves often lacked an outlet.
It said much that Sanchez's goal came from a breaking run, rather than finishing such an attempt. Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil combined classily, allowing the Chilean to burst through and finish.
That is Sanchez at his most supreme. That is not necessarily a classic No. 9, of the type the team seems to require given how Wenger sets them up.
Of course, the other side of that is that Sanchez will not offer a different game plan in terms of a forward, but this did not quite seem the night for it, especially given the former Barcelona player was not at peak fitness.
He did offer peak work rate, though, and deserves a lot of praise for the way he grafted. It was exceptional. Along with Santi Cazorla, Sanchez was one of the players who best relieved the pressure on Arsenal with some hugely intelligent hold-up play in that hugely pressurised last half-hour. Wenger praised it.
"He had a good game, not only on the technical side, but on the fighting side. He was mobile, dangerous. He showed as well he has great fighting spirit qualities that will be very important in the Premier League."
Wenger couldn't deny, however, that there was something missing in terms of finishing. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain missed one brilliant chance, at a period of the game in which Arsenal could have genuinely pummeled Besiktas.
"But we couldn't finish the game," the manager said. "And that of course was nervously very difficult in the last 10 minutes when we were down to 10 men."
Yet, if poor finishing cost Arsenal at one end, it saved them at the other. Besiktas may have been brilliantly set up but they couldn't quite bring it anywhere meaningful, even if Mathieu Debuchy should have given away a penalty long before he was sent off for a second yellow card.
Demba Ba could not offer the finishing touch, but came gallingly close in the 88th minute. "We kept Ba quiet tonight," Wenger said. "He had one chance on the header. That was very close and would have killed us."
It would also have been a reflection of the minimalism of Arsenal's summer so far. Although they were good value to go through, and the team does look genuinely promising with much more character, it is as if some old reticence in the market is still holding them back.
A bit more proactivity may also have produced a more commanding victory. As it was, they showed their combative spirit. That looks to have continued from last season's FA Cup win. Wenger must aid it by discontinuing the old errors in the transfer window.
They have yet again, however, got in to the Champions League through that back door.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.