Finishing touch still eludes the young guns
Arsenal 0 Fenerbahce 0
Only one English team in the Champions League could conspire to get 17 shots on target during the course of a game and still fail to score a goal and only one could do it, at times, with such style. That might be why Arsène Wenger turned on his heel and stomped down the tunnel at full-time without even a glance at his players or opponents.
Once again Wenger's team and their expansive, often ultimately ineffective, style has them in danger of disappearing up their nether regions at such a critical juncture in the season. This draw made it three consecutive games without a victory and, on Saturday, Manchester United are visiting a battered Arsenal side low on confidence who struggled and failed to put away Fenerbahce despite 64 per cent of the possession and all the key chances.
Saturday is shaping up to be the red-letter day for Arsenal's season. Potentially seven first-team players could be missing and that awkward question once again hangs over the heads of Wenger's team: what are Arsenal for? To win trophies or simply to entertain us with their passing flurries, their pleasing invention, before they fade into directionless mediocrity as they did in the second half last night? On last night's evidence it is the latter.
This draw is no disaster in terms of qualification for the next stages of the Champions League because Arsenal are still top of Group G by two points and will reach the knockout stage providing they win one of their last two games starting with Dynamo Kiev at home on 25 November. But that would be to ignore the bigger questions that are being asked about this team as they try to reach Christmas still a competitive force in the Premier League title race.
The list of the missing could yet include Mikaël Silvestre who appeared to break his nose last night when Semih Senturk, one of Turkey's Euro 2008 heroes, swung an elbow the Frenchman's way that did not look entirely accidental. Manuel Almunia was ruled out with an upset stomach and the untried, and frankly unconvincing goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, may yet have to play against United. Robin van Persie, last night's best player, is suspended for Saturday. Not exactly a cause for optimism.
Nonetheless, Arsenal played some lovely football in the first half. Ineffective but lovely all the same. As Barack Obama might say, it is time for Arsenal to bend the arc of history but lately the arc of history has been pointing just about everywhere apart from the Emirates Stadium. They would settle for just bending a decent cross into the box and putting it in the goal via Nicklas Bendtner's kneecap or Kolo Touré's backside. More matter, less art would suit Arsenal just fine right now.
It is not easy for Wenger when he is picking teams from the scraps of a squad that was never really properly reinforced in the summer anyway. Last night he picked Aaron Ramsey, 17, to play against the famous Roberto Carlos, 35, and to be fair to the young Welshman he did very well before, like the rest of his team-mates, he faded in the second half. Wenger had a central defensive pairing of Johan Djourou and Silvestre with Touré at right-back which is no one's idea of a balanced back four.
Let me count the ways that Arsenal missed. Van Persie could have had, at a conservative estimate, three goals. Samir Nasri could not get his feet sorted out in time to get a shot away in the first half when the ball dropped to him in the box. Bendtner sent Diego Lugano in so completely the wrong direction on 32 minutes that the old joke about the defender having to apply for re-admission to the stadium was applicable. The Danish striker then had his shot pushed onto the bar by goalkeeper Volkan Demirel.
So it continued with the introduction of Carlos Vela and Abou Diaby, who did not give Arsenal any greater cutting edge in front of goal. "We know that if we score a goal we can open up teams who come to defend," said Cesc Fabregas. "But we don't want to make excuses. If we don't win then there are players who will come in to take our places."
Who is he kidding? There are no more players left to Wenger unless he wants to press the Carling Cup kids into service. Fabianski did not inspire confidence when he failed to come off his line to see off the danger when Ugur Boral was played through on goal. For Wenger there were potential problems wherever he looked and United are likely to make a lot more trouble for them than Fenerbahce ever managed.
It was Arsenal's first goalless draw since February and the first time they have failed to score in Europe this season. They are not yet in a position where their backs are pushed up against a cold wall but you feel that is only a matter of time when United visit on Saturday.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Fabianski; Touré, Djourou, Silvestre (song, 82), Clichy; Ramsey (Diaby, 59), Fabregas, Denilson, Nasri; Bendtner (Vela, 59 ), Van Persie. Substitutes not used: Mannone (gk), Sagna, Wilshere, Gibbs.
Fenerbahce (4-4-1-1): Demirel; Gonul, Edu, Lugano, Carlos (Vederson, 69); Kazim-Richards (Bilgin, 58), Maldonado (Josico, 68), Sahin, Boral; Senturk; Guiza. Substitutes not used: Babacan (gk), Yilmaz, Cakmak, Deivid.
Referee: R Rosetti (Italy)
Results: Dynamo Kiev 1 Arsenal 1; Porto 3 Fenerbahce 1; Arsenal 4 Porto 0; Fenerbahce 0 Dynamo Kiev 0; Fenerbahce 2 Arsenal 5; Porto 0 Dynamo Kiev 1; Arsenal 0 Fenerbahce 0; Dynamo Kiev 1 Porto 2.
Arsenal's remaining group fixtures: 25 Nov: Dynamo Kiev (h); 10 Dec: Porto (a).
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