Arsene Wenger puffed out his cheeks and strode purposefully down the tunnel. He knew he had been in a game.
So did his players. Alexis Sanchez, the matchwinner and hero of the night, and Santi Cazorla, a tireless worker in midfield, were walking gingerly, hobbling even. They had completed 90 minutes but it had taken its toll. This will have made happy viewing in the households of Nigel Pearson and his Leicester City players, Arsenala��s opponents on Sunday.
It was tight. Tighter than it has been for many years. Too tight for comfort, by the end. Arsenal tend to stroll through this little technicality in their Champions League programme, the qualification phase. Not on Wednesday night.
They were a goal ahead shortly before half-time but it afforded a false sense of security. Having failed to score in Istanbul, their single goal did not alter the requirement for Besiktas. An equaliser would still do it and as they went in search of one, so Arsenala��s certainty faded.
By the time the home side were reduced to 10 men with 15 minutes to go, it is fair to say panic was spreading, certainly in the stands. Arsenal are a better team than Besiktas, but they were terrifyingly vulnerable to a single aberration, a slack moment of marking or a freak, deflected equaliser. Well outside their comfort zone, the fans bawled and screamed their frustration.
To be fair, the anger over Mathieu Debuchya��s dismissal was misplaced. He was rightly booked in the first half for choosing to meet Olcay Sahan with his shoulder, rather than challenging fairly in the air, and taking a yellow card into the second half his clumsy manhandling of Mustafa Pektemek was always going to invite trouble. Referee Pedro Proenca, from Portugal, showed a red and the Emirates erupted, but it was more out of fear than justified indignation.
Calum Chambers was then booked for coming on to the field prematurely as Wenger sought to reshuffle the team, and may have a greater beef, but as Besiktas had been denied a very plausible first-half penalty, it is fair to say Arsenal got the best of any incompetence.
It would have been a strange penalty, but no less warranted for that. Jack Wilshere, who was exceptional bar this moment of madness and a miss after nine minutes that could have put Arsenal in early command, made a desperate lunge from behind in an attempt to stop Ramon Motta.
It was hard to identify specific contact at first, save for the coincidence of both men falling within a split second of each other, but replays showed that in going to ground Wilsherea��s hand had clipped Mottaa��s foot and perhaps sent him tumbling. Certainly, the circumstantial evidence would have convinced more than a few referees; and they would have been right.
Nevertheless, Arsenal had the better of the chances on the night and would have felt hard done by had Besiktas progressed.
Even in a fraught second half, the best of it belonged to Arsenal and Sanchez in particular will be kicking himself for a miss in the 53rd minute which should have put the result beyond doubt. Debuchy also found the side-netting with a far-post header, Cazorla had an excellent chance blocked and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could have done better from close range.
Sanchez moment came in the final minute of the half, after a headed clearance had found its way to Wilshere. He played a nice one-two with Mesut Ozil and looked to be shaping to shoot from the return pass.
Letting the ball run, however, took it into the path of Sanchez who decided to eschew politeness and have a go, first time. Jackpot. Sanchez struck his shot low and goalkeeper Tolga Zengin could not get down quickly enough.
Ultimately, it was all Arsenal required. For the 17th season in succession a delegation from the club will arrive in Monaco for the Champions League draw. -DailyMail.UK.