For the second successive year, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side travel to Turkey hoping to clinch a place in the UEFA Champions League Group Stage with Slaven Bilic’s Besiktas the Gunners’ final obstacle.
Arsenal do however have some significant fitness issues ahead of today’s clash with Yaya Sanogo, who had been given the nod ahead of Olivier Giroud for the start of Arsenal’s domestic campaign, being deemed not fit enough to travel. Kieran Gibbs will also miss both matches due to a hamstring injury picked up in Saturday’s victory over Crystal Palace.
World Cup winner Per Mertesacker may return to the heart of Arsenal’s defense alongside partner Laurent Koscielny although following Thomas Vermaelen’s departure to FC Barcelona, Arsene Wenger is all of a sudden finding options at the back rather light.
One of the main issues, teams face when travelling to Turkey is the intense atmosphere of the supporters. We all remember the scenes from 1993 when Manchester United were ‘welcomed to hell’ by fanatical Galatasaray supporters as well as the tragic incident in 2000 when two Leeds United supporters were killed during clashes prior to Leeds’ UEFA Cup semi-final in Istanbul.
However Besiktas are being forced to host tonight’s match away from their usual home ground due to the Vodafone Arena still being in development. Tonight’s match will take place at a venue very close to the hearts of Liverpool supporters, the Ataturk Olympic Stadium where the Anfield club overcame a 3-0 deficit to beat AC Milan in the 2005 European Cup final.
Slaven Bilic has spoken this week about his awareness of Arsenal’s talents ahead of the clash this evening.
“Arsenal is a great team with great history. We have huge respect for them. However we will not hide. [Aaron] Ramsey is Arsenal’s best player & their most important. Most top players have one outstanding quality. He’s 9/10 in everything.”
Given Arsenal’s recent history in qualifying for the Champions League, this is the most prepared Arsenal has been for this stage of the competition for a number of years. There have been no significant sales which have rocked the club to the core and the manager has been able to complete the bulk of his transfer business early.
In theory, this should make for a much easier task for Arsenal. However the Gunners will be more then guarded against such complacency given the high financial stakes. Arsenal’s business model relies on Champions League qualification and despite having paid off the Emirates Stadium as well as the new bumper kit deal with Puma, this remains the case.