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Aug 19, 2014

Three Points: Besiktas vs. Arsenal

Here are three observations from the 0-0 draw between Besiktas and Arsenal in the opening leg of the teams' Champions League playoff.

1. The Gunners' Champions League qualifying winning streak ends

A trend is broken, but Arsenal is hoping it doesn't break their run of qualifying for a 17th successive Champions League season.

Because for the first time in his career at the English club, manager Arsene Wenger has failed to win a qualifying leg. He had won the previous 12, but couldn't claim victory in a 13th that had moments that ranged from the unlucky to the very lucky. This 0-0 draw away to Besiktas was an unfamiliar result at this point, then, but also puts Arsenal in a somewhat uncertain position.

While there are a number of caveats -- not least the state of the pitch -- that make a case this was a good result, it does leave them on edge in the home second leg. Wenger will have to play without the suspended Aaron Ramsey following his harsh red card here, with all of his other main attackers looking unfit, and the danger of an away goal hovering over the match.

That is the real consequence of not scoring one yourself, even if Arsenal can feel content -- and Besiktas somewhat aggrieved -- that the home side didn't claim one.

It was one of those curious matches in which neither side will really know how to feel about the result. Slaven Bilic's side really put it up to a superior side but couldn't punish them. Arsenal kept it tight in difficult circumstances and had their chances, but leave more doubt than they're used to.

The suspicion is that Wenger's team will prove they are superior in that second leg, but they will at least have to improve on this.

Neither Besiktas nor Arsenal will be satisfied with the 0-0 draw, but the pressure now falls on the Gunners to deliver at home.

2. Arsenal's slow start continues . . .

It isn't something to get perturbed about after such a short period of time, but Arsenal haven't yet seen much of a pickup from last season's FA Cup crescendo or even the Community Shield victory over Manchester City. Instead, this was another lethargic performance, following the drab display against Crystal Palace on the opening day of the Premier League.

To make some fair allowances, there are a number of reasons for that. First of all, this was not a pitch conducive to Wenger's best football. Secondly, he was missing some of his best players in that regard, such as Mesut Ozil, while so many others were just unfit.

Alexis Sanchez offered enough touches to provide encouragement for when he is 100 percent, but it was odd that he was so withdrawn here, playing the curious role of creator rather than finisher.

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Jack Wilshere operated with a similar sluggishness, and Wenger admitted before the game that he didn't have a fully fit striker.

Only Ramsey and Calum Chambers -- bar one slip for a Demba Ba touch -- looked anywhere close to their best.

That is one reason why the Welsh attacker's suspension for two yellow cards is a particular worry, as Mikel Arteta also trotted off with a knock.

Besiktas could well have added insult to that injury with the incisiveness of their attacking, but did encounter the other side of Arsenal's display: a creditable durability. The previously maligned Wojciech Szczesny also deserves credit for what was a solid display. One catch from a long-range effort in the first half was especially strong.

That could be as crucial as some of the missed chances -- from both sides.

3. Comparing Giroud to Ba

Demba Ba was an active threat to Arsenal and was unlucky to not get on the scoresheet.

After all that, the reality is that this still could have been a thoroughly comfortable win for Arsenal had Olivier Giroud been anything close to full fitness or form. Instead, even if there was a caveat, we saw the French striker at close to his worst: missing chances, clumsy touches, and much poorer link-up play than normal.

It was in stark contrast to the live wire Ba -- at least until the former Chelsea forward missed that big chance just before the break. It said much about the night, though, that Giroud's miss was immediately worse.

Beyond that, Ba offered a lesson in link-up play of his own, with some divine touches to keep play flowing. The opening moment of the game undeniably set the tone, as Besiktas seemed to catch Arsenal by surprise, just as Ba almost caught the goalkeeper off-guard with that spectacular and speculative halfway line effort.

It was as close as anyone got until Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain forced a fine save at the other end in the dying exchanges.

And yet, despite such inches, the feeling was that both teams could have been clear. Both strikers could have had braces.

It was another curiosity of this game.

Miguel Delaney

Miguel Delaney is London correspondent for ESPN and also writes for the Irish Examiner, the Independent, Blizzard and assorted others. He is the author of an award-nominated book on the Irish national team called 'Stuttgart to Saipan' (Mentor) and was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year in 2011.

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