Just four days ago Wenger had cut a forlorn figure as he hurried onto a club train home from Stoke to avoid the foul-mouthed abuse of fans frustrated by the Gunners’ dismal 3-2 defeat at the Britannia Stadium.
Wenger’s position was once again the subject of much debate and another disappointing performance in Istanbul on Tuesday would have heaped further pressure on the under-fire Arsenal manager.
But the north Londoners silenced Wenger’s critics, for a few days at least, with a vibrant display featuring one of the goals of the season from Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey.
Lukas Podolski’s early opener was followed by a brace from Ramsey, including a brilliant 30-yard volley, before Podolski sealed the points in second half stoppage-time after Wesley Sneijder’s free-kick reduced the deficit for Galatasaray.
It was exactly the response Wenger needed, even though Arsenal were forced to settle for a second place finish in Group D after Borussia Dortmund got the point they required against Anderlecht to finish top.
– Stunning goal –
“We gave a strong response from the start,” Wenger said. “We looked dangerous every time we won the ball back, we had good penetration, we scored good goals and until half-time I feel we were very strong.
“In the second half we suffered a bit more for two reasons — some players had not enough competitive games and especially I had to take two players off But, overall, it was a strong performance.”
Those midfield changes saw Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini withdrawn with hamstring and calf complaints respectively at half-time.
Wenger explained both were precautionary measures and that they should be fit to face Newcastle at the weekend, which will be a particular relief when it comes to Ramsey.
Ramsey’s stunning second goal even led to applause from the notoriously partisan home fans, but Wenger claimed he would have been unhappy with the midfielder’s decision to shoot from such a long way out if he had missed.
“Honestly, I felt at the time when he took the decision that it was not the best decision. But he proved me wrong,” Wenger said with a smile.
Wenger was also surprised by the ease with which his side won — at one stage looking like they could get the six-goal margin of victory that would have overhauled leaders Dortmund on goal difference.
“I did not think it was possible at the start of the game, but at half-time yes,” Wenger said.
– Daunting draw –
“But after we were had to take Ramsey and Flamini off, it was too much for us to hope that we could score six.
“We were closer to conceding one or two more in the second half and we defended very well.”
Arsenal’s second-place finish means the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris St Germain and defending champions Bayern Munich could now await them in Monday’s draw.
That is a daunting prospect for Arsenal, who have failed to progress past the last 16 since 2010, but Wenger preferred to concentrate on the busy Christmas schedule rather than worry about the draw.
“Look, let’s wait for the draw, prepare well,” Wenger said. “We can focus now on the Premier League.
“It was my 180th game in Champions League tonight, we won away from home and now 15 consecutive years in the last 16. That, I believe, is an achievement.
“Let’s focus on the Premiership until the end of February and the FA Cup as well.”