Ok, so here we go into our first European game of the season. Rather, one step towards qualification to Europe’s elite football tournament. Arsenal will visit the hostile Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, in Istanbul to face Turkish giants Fenerbahce.
The past few days at Arsenal have been turbulent in the least. All the frustration among the Arsenal fans over the lack of new signings over the summer boiled over after a disastrous 3-1 home defeat in the opening Premier League encounter at home to Aston Villa. Add to that injuries to key players in an already depleted squad, ahead of a grueling schedule.
Arsene Wenger was again at his cagey best, when it comes to speaking transfers before the all important game against Fenerbahce. While again implying that the window should close before the season starts (Really?), he goes on to contradict his earlier statement by saying most of Arsenal’s transfer activity will happen between now and the end of the month. (I am confused!)
He also asked, for the umpteenth time, the fans to be patient and get behind the boys, reiterating that his only focus at the moment is the Fenerbahce game. Captain Per Mertesacker spoke about how important the first 20 minutes are in away European games.
Fenerbahce, despite being mauled 5-2 at home last time Arsenal visited them, will be looking to bounce back after they lost on Sunday in the Turkish league, 3-2 away to Konyaspor, with their opponents scoring 3 goals in the final 12 minutes.
They will be fiercely backed by the Ultras, who tried, and probably managed to disrupt the sleep of Arsenal players last night, by lighting flares and creating a ruckus outside the hotel where Arsenal were based. Fenerbahce supporters are known around the footballing world for creating intimidating atmospheres, and tonight will be no different.
They also boast a squad consisting of several household names, and a strong Premier League experience. Raul Meireles, formerly of Chelsea and Liverpool; Dirk Kuyt, formerly of Liverpool; Joseph Yobo, formerly of Everton and Emre Belozoglu, formerly of Newcastle. They also have Portugese international Bruno Alves, former Juventus and Serbia winger Milos Krasic and are spearheaded by the Senegalese-Nigerian partnership of Moussa Sow and Emmanuel Emenike.
Right, on to some team news then. Thomas Vermaelen, Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby are definite absentees. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has joined the list and could be out from anywhere between 6 weeks to 3 months. Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs have made quick recoveries after suffering heavy knocks against Aston Villa. Nacho Monreal has also been drafted into the squad.
Experienced Turkish goalkeeper Volkan Demirel is suspended, while Ertun Ersu has a knee injury, meaning Fehmi Mert Gonuk will start in goal. Gokhan Gonul is injured.
Here is how I expect the teams to lineup.
As much as I would like to see Podolski play, I think Arsene Wenger will play an extra man in midfield. Aaron Ramsey needs to stay disciplined all night, as Fenerbahce are known to play good counterattacking football, under new coach Ersun Yanal, who also likes his teams set up physically agressive.
This is another factor Arsenal haven’t really been able to handle well in recent times, so one can expect another tough fixture on hands. Mertesacker and Koscielny will have their hands full again facing two physical forwards, having failed to deal with Benteke and Agbonlahor over the weekend.
Much creative impetus will be on Cazorla and Rosicky. I had said I prefer Podolski, because he looks fresh and had a good pre-season, compared to Cazorla who has been doing multiple Transatlantic trips to play meaningless international games. I would rather see him fully fit and rejuvenated for the weekend trip down London to Craven Cottage.
In defence, though I would prefer Jenkinson over Sagna for fitness reasons, Sagna’s experience at this level would be vital, especially against Fenerbahce’s left midfield duo of Emre and Krasic. Like Mertesacker said, Arsenal will have to defend well in the opening 20-30 minutes, and not end up conceding silly goals, and slowly build on that.
Enjoy the game wherever you are!
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