Arsenal cruised to a 4-1 victory over Galatasaray in Istanbul but had to settle for second place in Group D as Borussia Dortmund secured the draw they needed against Anderlecht to secure top spot. Toppling the Germans was always an optimistic objective, as Arsene Wenger reinforced by leaving Alexis Sanchez. Danny Welbeck and Laurent Koscielny at home. Arsenal needed either a Dortmund defeat, or what appeared an even unlikelier scenario of a Dortmund draw and a six-goal win for Wenger’s men.
But hopes were raised when Lukas Podolski thundered Arsenal into an early lead against a team already confirmed to finish bottom of the group and Aaron Ramsey added two more before the 30-minute mark. Against a ramshackle defense, another three goals seemed far from out of the question, but with both Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini taken off at halftime for two of the six teenagers on the bench -- Gedion Zelalem and Ainsley Maitland-Niles -- much of Arsenal's momentum was quelled. Podolski added a fourth late on after Wesley Sneijder pulled one back, but the result in Dortmund meant Arsenal could again be left to rue the failure to win their group.
Rather than this result, it will surely be the two dropped points and the collapse from a 3-0 lead at home to Anderlecht that looms large should Arsenal again been drawn against one of Europe’s giants in the last 16. Indeed, Wenger, who saw Mathieu Debuchy back in action for the first time in three months, will surely try to take some encouragement from the win in Turkey and the comfortable manner of it after a chastening defeat against Stoke City on Saturday that brought fresh scrutiny upon his leadership.
Yet the quality of the opposition was hardly up to much. Galatasaray had won three matches on the bounce and the first two under new coach Hamza Hamzaoglu, but their defending remained just as disastrous as under Cesare Prandelli at the Emirates. It took just three minutes for Arsenal to get off the mark. Ramsey fed Posolski on the left of the box and, despite the difficulty of the angle, the German unleashed a trademark thunderbolt of a shot that flew past goalkeeper Sinan Bolat at his neat post.
Podolski was making his first start in either the Premier League or Champions League this season. While his finishing has rarely been in doubt, his activity off the ball has come under much harsher scrutiny. Wenger will surely have taken note then as Podolski tracked back and pressured Tarik Candal into an error that led to Arsenal doubling their lead in the 11th minute. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took the ball forward before feeding Ramsey to his left, and the Welshman produced a clever low finish with his left foot into the far corner of the net.
The goal came as an even bigger blow to Galatasaray, given that just four minutes earlier they had missed a golden chance to level the scores. Defender Hakan Balta showed his lack of comfort in the attacking penalty area when a deflected shot fell perfectly to his feet 12 yards from goal and he dragged an awful shot wide of the target with only returning goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to beat.
In the 29th minute the match was over as a contest, thanks to the goal of the night and one of the finest of the entire group phase. Galatasaray thought they had cleared a corner, but from 30 yards out Ramsey met the ball with a stunning half-volley on his left foot to send it flying into the top corner of the net. Having gone 15 matches without a goal, the Welsh midfielder has now netted three in two.
But the decision to withdraw him as a precaution due to a tight hamstring helped derail Arsenal’s surge. Sneijder took out some of his personal frustration by smashing in a free-kick with two minutes left. The last word, though, fittingly belonged to Arsenal thanks to Podolski combining with Yaya Sanogo and finishing coolly.