Arsenal again travel to Istanbul for the first leg of their Champions League qualifying round. The Gunners have won every leg of every qualifier they have played, but they know they won’t have experienced an atmosphere quite like the one they’ll taste tonight.
Besiktas’ new purpose built Vodafone Arena is not yet ready, so we’ll be spared jokes about expecting a bad reception with the game taking place in the Ataturk Arena.
Arsenal will hope for a repeat of last year’s 3-0 stroll in the same city against Fenerbahçe. The manager has stressed that the sporting prestige of qualifying for the Champions League is foremost in his thoughts rather than financial considerations. Arsenal will hope to come back to London with a positive result, not least since Turkish sides are notoriously poor travellers in European competition.
Arsene Wenger is wary of the effects of fatigue after his side’s last gasp win over Crystal Palace on Saturday.
“We had a short preparation and we know that in one week we have three big games: Besiktas home and away and Everton in between. Every challenge is different and beating a Turkish team away from home is very difficult but we want to perform at our best.
‘Besiktas are on the back of a good result against Feyenoord [in the third qualifying round] but we`re on our toes and want to produce a good result.
‘””I have a good experience in the Champions League,” he added. “I know you have to be pragmatic and realistic and just go game by game. First we have to qualify. It`s a very difficult task and we know we have two difficult games. Before speaking about anything else we know we have to put in two big performances against Besiktas.”
Meanwhile, Besiktas boss Slaven Bilic has warned Arsenal this his side aren’t there to make up the numbers, ‘If we beat Arsenal it won`t be a miracle, it definitely won`t be breaking news on CNN.
‘Arsenal are favourites, we wanted them the least in the draw, but what does that mean? That we don`t have anything to lose because they are the favourites? F**k that!
‘We have 15 million fans in Turkey, people pass me on the street and say ‘Arsenal are going down`. That is huge pressure, but I am a coach of a big club and I love that kind of pressure.
‘The logos behind us say more than a thousand words – look at that [UEFA Champions League] backdrop and you see the importance of this game. We know what we’re up against and we’re ready to fight right until the end. It’s a massive game not only for this generation for the history of Beşiktaş. Arsenal are one of the best teams in Europe, but we have a plan and we’re going to make it happen.
‘They’re favourites but we have to believe. We won’t be doing on-the-pitch selfies with Alexis Sánchez, Arteta or Giroud. We are not here to swap shirts with them. No! We have a plan and we’re a big club, too. Arsenal are the favourites but we’ll do our best.’
Besiktas Team News:
Midfielder Atiba Hutchinson is doubtful for the home side with a hamstring problem. But striker Demba Ba is expected to make his full debut for Besiktas. Ex Arsenal trainee Oguzhan Ozyakup is in the squad.
Besiktas JK (from); Gonen, Kurtulus, Koybasi, Sivok, Kavlak, Ba, Sahan, Pektamak, Ozyakup, Tore, Franco, Uysal, Frei, Gulum, Tosun, Boral, Zengen (c), Motta, Nukan, Metin.
Player to watch: Kerim Frei
Ba will be the danger man upfront and a threat with which we are well acquainted, but Kerim Frei is the player that makes them tick from midfield.
He is the player that sets the tempo for Besiktas and their main inspiration. If Besiktas are to prosper, it’s likely this man will have much to do with it.
Arsenal Team News:
Arsenal are without Kieran Gibbs and Yaya Sanogo, who have both picked up hamstring injuries and will miss 2-3 weeks. But Laurent Koscielny has been passed fit despite concerns over an achilles knock.
Wenger has resisted the urge to take Per Mertesacker to Istanbul. Theo Walcott (knee), Abou Diaby (hip) and Serge Gnabry (knee) are out. Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski are still not ready for competitive action. David Ospina (thigh) is out. Mathieu Flamini returns from illness.
Arsenal (from): Szczesny, Debuchy, Koscielny, Rosicky, Arteta (c), Wilshere, Giroud, Chamberlain, Ramsey, Alexis, Monreal, S.Cazorla, Flamini, Chambers, Martinez, Campbell, Bellerin, Miquel.
Player to watch: Jack Wilshere
Jack has been given a chance in Mesut Ozil’s number 10 role whilst the German has been regaining fitness. Wilshere played there all through pre season and will play there again tonight you’d imagine.
In truth, he and Ramsey have played slightly closer together than Ozil and Ramsey tend to. But with Ozil expected back in the squad at least for Saturday, Wilshere will want to make himself difficult to leave out.
Match Facts & Stats
Besiktas and Arsenal have never met in a competitive setting before.
Beşiktaş’s record in 14 games against English clubs is W4 D3 L7 (W2 D3 L3 at home, W2 D0 L4 in England).
Arsenal have yet to lose over 90 minutes against Turkish sides, conceding just twice in seven meetings: W4 D3 L0 (W2 D1 L0 at home, W2 D1 L0 in Istanbul). However, those games include the final of the 2000 UEFA Cup, which Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal lost 4-1 on penalties to Galatasaray.
Arsenal have won all 12 of their previous UEFA Champions League play-off matches, eliminating Dinamo Zagreb (2006/07), AC Sparta Praha (2007/08), FC Twente (2008/09), Celtic FC (2009/10), Udinese (2011/12) and Fenerbahçe (2013/14).
Milorad Mazic takes charge this evening.
I’m going for a 2-1 win for the Gunners. Ba for Besiktas, with Giroud and later Cazorla edging Arsenal ahead.
Arsenal are away at Everton on Saturday evening at 5.30pm. Besiktas’ next game will be the second leg in London.