Three Points: Arsenal vs. Besiktas
LONDON -- Three quick thoughts from Arsenal's nervy 1-0 aggregate win over Besiktas in the Champions League playoff round ...
Sanchez the saviour
This was a very close-run thing indeed. Alexis Sanchez paid most of his 32 million-pound fee back Wednesday with the winner of a match that too often threatened to get away from a troubled Arsenal. Besiktas caused sincere trouble for the Gunners right until the last, especially after the home team were reduced to 10 men.
Mathieu Debuchy, a fellow summer arrival, has much to thank the Chilean for. Having almost conceded a first-half penalty, he was dismissed for two bookable offences. Such indiscipline almost cost Arsenal their place in the Champions League group stage for the first time since 1998.
A first half full of fear concluded by Sanchez scoring a first competitive goal for the club. Debuchy and Jack Wilshere, both of whom might earlier have conceded penalties, conspired to put Sanchez down the right-hand channel he is most comfortable in. The finish was first-rate; the relief palpable. Arsene Wenger was a fretting presence on the sidelines. His team badly missed the drive of Aaron Ramsey, missing after his two bookable offences in the goalless first leg.
Beyond Sanchez's goal, Arsenal teetered on an ever-sharpening knife edge. An away strike was fatal, especially as they did not look overly capable of adding to their tally. When Demba Ba, far too free in Arsenal's box, pinged a shot into the side netting, much of the Emirates Stadium thought the ball had actually gone in.
As Besiktas pinned Arsenal back, Sanchez was often the only release gauge available, but he does not have the ability to hold up lofted balls that Olivier Giroud -- whom he must now replace as the leading central striker for the foreseeable future -- does. However, the Chilean's energy is wholly appreciated by his new admirers. He worked like a Trojan in trying to gain territory and time for his toiling colleagues. Sanchez is a hustler and a hassler in the rich South American tradition that Wenger wanted when he tried to buy Luis Suarez a year ago.
Sanchez is not the player Suarez is, but neither does he cost as much in terms of monetary value or collateral damage. His desire to do well in North London is clear, and he enjoyed his goal celebration. It just took rather too long for his new club to be able to enjoy the fruits of his labours. In the end, though, his contribution was invaluable to Arsenal's progress.
2. Gunners get lucky
Arsenal were constantly frustrated by a Besiktas defence that, aside from a couple of moments of uncertainty and Sanchez's goal, held solid enough against an attacking unit struggling to force through fluency.
Wenger was often up on the sidelines to protest about some agricultural tackling. Both Debuchy and Laurent Koscielny were cleaned out by thunderous challenges, and the manager betrayed anxiety over suffering yet more injuries. Always fiercely protective, Wenger had a beef with both Besiktas and referee Pedro Proenca, whom Arsenal's boss thought was far too liberal in his running of the game.
This was bitty and frustrating, with heart tremors for the home contingent whenever Ba -- this time last year a loan possibility for Wenger -- was in a dangerous position.
Olcay Sahan's tripping over his own feet brought comic relief just when it looked like the Turkish side, whose patience in possession had grown as the first half went on, had found a dangerous outlet. When Jack Wilshere's slip on the edge of the penalty area looked to have knocked Ramon Motta over, the Turkish contingent cried injustice. Wilshere looked blessedly relieved when Proenca gave nothing.
If there was no contact, then it was only due to good Arsenal fortune; Wilshere had lost control of his faculties in committing himself, and moments later was playing the role of setting up Sanchez for the goal that should have steadied Arsenal. Debuchy had earlier looked lucky to escape a red card when he bundled into Mustafa Pektemek.
3. More injured parties for Wenger
There's something about Arsenal and injuries. Already Wenger is two key players down, though captain Mikel Arteta's ankle knock is by no means as serious as that suffered by Giroud in the moments following his equalising Saturday strike at Goodison Park. Germany World Cup guru Shad Forsythe has not worked his medical miracles just yet.
Wenger says he will not be rushed into the market by Giroud's injury, even in the light of a worrying prognosis escaping from French sources. Spurious rumours had him considering former Birmingham tower Nikola Zigic on Wednesday afternoon, though despite that being the lengthiest of long shots, the Frenchman's absence leaves similar budget options; Sanchez's signing already broke the piggy bank, it seems.
Playing Sanchez centrally after a troubled 45 minutes at Everton betrayed a lack of options, but despite it not being his most regular position, the Chilean is still far more experienced as a striker than the callow talents of Yaya Sanogo or Joel Campbell.
Gunners fans are also concerned about the lack of spine to their team. It is in central midfield where real worries reside. Sami Khedira is available yet unwanted, and while Wenger has one of the richest seams of attacking midfielders to mine in English football, none, aside from Mathieu Flamini, like to put their foot in. The Frenchman played anchor here, with Wilshere and Santi Cazorla given room to roam.
Mesut Ozil was again out left, a place where he also disappointed against Everton. It now looks as if Wenger is shoehorning in his most costly addition rather than building a team around him. The German responded with one of those evenings when he frustrates home fans rather than opponents.
Sanchez is another having to show adaptability, though his inward move gives Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the chance to shine denied him at the World Cup through yet another injury. The Ox, as the PA announcer always calls him, showed signs of returning form only to become bogged down in what became a desperate midfield battle.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.