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Arsenal 1 Besiktas 0: If only the Champions League were so exciting

IF only the Champions League group stages themselves were half as exciting as this.

This was a night of high, intoxicating drama. The away goal rule may be a little arbitrary, but the way it disposes of the draw, making one goal the difference between victory and defeat, certainly heightens the excitement and frays the nerves.

There will be those who say the night had everything and they’ll include controversial refereeing among that. They’re wrong. The excitement of football is all about the fine margins the game creates without refereeing controversy. The excitement was the chances we spurned and the cross they pumped in late that somehow nobody connected with.

The referee wasn’t great. I’ve no idea how he could book Chambers for coming on too soon when a minute earlier he’d turned a blind eye to their keeper receiving treatment without any apparent permission. Looking at the Debuchy penalty replays, I think it was a very tough call, one of those where you can’t be too critical whatever the decision.

The Wilshere penalty was an astonishingly bad call. We could all see it in the stadium. If there was any contact it had to be a penalty. And if there was no contact, then their player must have had eyes in the back of his head to go down so simultaneously with Wilshere. And amazingly, the referee was right there. Terrible.

On the Debuchy red card, I think the referee was wrong but I would (just) put it in the bracket of being wrong but understandable. There was contact before the tackle, albeit for me legitimate contact.

As for the game itself, where to start? If I’m completely honest, I was very slightly distracted at times by (quite reasonable) phone calls from home updating me on an unprecedented refusal to go to bed from the 2 year-old, with the drama at home peaking just as it was in the ground.

So a few random thoughts:

- From the lack of tweets about it, I imagine the TV cameras missed the classic moment early on when Debuchy slid in on their player by the touchline. When the referee blew Steve Bould took it as a personal affront to his whole existence.

- Alexis’ second half was not a bad audition for the idea he can play up front on his own. He’s got that Barcelona work-rate that means that even if he’s not in the classic mould of a Giroud style centre-forward, he can still make life hell for the opposition defenders.

- The Ox offered real variation to our attack.

- Late on this one was hugely hard to call. Great stuff.

- We’re through. Amen to that.


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