Danny Welbeck scored his first ever senior hat-trick to help fire Arsenal to an emphatic 4-1 victory over Galatasaray and get their Champions League campaign up and running. Criticized for his scoring rate by his former Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal and having missed notable chances in the early days of his Arsenal career, Welbeck provided a powerful retort to crudely expose a shambolic Galatasaray backline. The England international struck twice in eight minutes midway through the opening period and added a sumptuous third after the break, by which time Alexis Sanchez had capped his own fine performance with a goal. The only disappointment for Arsene Wenger on an occasion that marked the 18th anniversary of his taking charge was a red card for goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and concession of a penalty converted by Burak Yilmaz.
Szczesny will now have to sit out the trip to Anderlecht in three weeks’ time, but, regardless, it will be a match that Arsenal should now go into with confidence of making it out of the opening group stage for a 15th successive season. Had the result gone another way on Wednesday that may well not have been the case, after a defeat to Borussia Dortmund two weeks ago meant that a win against the visitors from Istanbul was, if not required, then certainly keenly desired.
Yet, in truth, despite injuries requiring a whole new midfield to the one that drew the north London derby on Saturday, a victory never looked in doubt after Welbeck poked the ball into the net in the 22nd minute. New Galatasaray coach Cesare Prandelli’s decision to go with a back three backfired horrendously, with Felipe Melo particularly exposed out of position at the heart of the defense. The pace and movement of Welbeck, supported by the ingenuity and speed of thought of Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, tormented the Brazilian midfielder and his defensive teammates throughout to give Arsenal a perfect confidence boost ahead of their duel with Chelsea on Sunday.
Still, it is doubtful how much of a guide this display, impressive though it was, is to Arsenal’s ability to reverse their recent series of results when going away to high-quality opposition. Certainly there is surely no prospect of Chelsea affording Arsenal with the same time and space both in front and behind their defense. Arsenal have always thrived against such kind opposition and with their new offensive weapons they have even more ammunition with which to take advantage.
The first goal was the perfect example. Sanchez, back in the side after having surprisingly started on the bench against Tottenham, continued to make an impressive start to his Arsenal career, cutting in from the left flank with ease and slipping a pass in behind Melo. The Galatasaray defender was left incredibly flat-footed to allow Welbeck to easily run beyond him and, while he almost lost control of the situation, stretch and stick out a boot to send a shot through the legs of Fernando Muslera. The finish for the second was more assured and the Galatasaray defending even less so. Aurelien Chedjou flicked a header errantly back toward his own goal from just inside his half and Welbeck easily out-paced Melo once more before taking a touch to settle himself and then placing the ball into the corner.
Welbeck had a chance to make it a quick-fire hat-trick but failed to make clean contact after Ozil’s layoff. At the other end Goran Pandev was similarly lacking with his finish to squander Galatasaray’s best opening of the period. Before halftime the visitors found themselves three goals behind. Arsenal’s world-class operators signed in the last two summers had all the time in the world to combine, with former Real Madrid man Ozil feeding a ball through to ex-Barcelona forward Sanchez, who picked out the same corner of the net and from a similar position as Welbeck just over 10 minutes earlier.
The half may have been made even worse for Galatasaray and Melo, but the former Juventus man could count himself fortunate to have escaped with just a yellow card for a two-footed lunge on Sanchez. He may have wished he was off the pitch when Arsenal extended their advantage just seven minutes into the second half. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had no pressure applied to him before sliding yet another pass down the side of Galatasaray’s hapless defense and Welbeck produced a clever dink that, unlike in Dortmund two weeks ago, found the net and sealed his hat-trick.
Given Arsenal’s dominance, it was even more difficult to fathom why Szczesny continued his propensity for questionable decision making by rushing from his goal to take down Yilmaz after the striker ran in behind the hosts’ backline. Substitute goalkeeper David Ospina’s first job was to pick the ball out of the net as Yilmaz confidently converted from the spot. But the Colombian showed that he is more than capable of adequately filling Szczesny’s gloves in Belgium by saving impressively form a Yilmaz header and then a shot from the angle by substitute Hamit Altintop as Arsenal avoided any unnecessary late drama.