It’s tough to say with a high degree of certainty but common sense suggests a lot is riding on Arsenal’s qualification to Champions League proper. The financial benefits of getting into the lucrative competition are obvious but even the possibility of adding top quality players to the squad might hinge on advancement in this elite competition.
Arsenal have had a tougher draw than most Gooners would have hoped for and the trip to Turkey is likely to be a stiffer test than some of the group phase ties that the Gunners have played in recent years or many games in the Premier League. After the Aston Villa performance and given the threadbare nature of the squad at Wenger’s disposal this is not a game many will look forward to with great confidence. Yet it is confidence that the players need.
The Gunners have to go out believing they can win or get a favourable result with an away goal or two. In recent times confidence has been a problem. Either the team starts out in a diffident mode and is out of a key contest in the opening 20 minutes or it tends to lose its way midway through the game, even after taking a lead, as the players aren’t quite sure of how to proceed. Interestingly though, sometimes Arsenal do better in away games than they do at home. Last season’s home defeats against Schalke and Bayern were hugely disappointing but the away performances were much better.
The key difference was down to the approach of the team. In the away games they took a much more conservative approach and defended as a unit. The same tactic would be advisable for this fixture, but without the presence of naturally defensive minded players in midfield it’s going to be tough even if they sit deep. Fenebahce are a team full of excellent players that have experience at the highest level. Admittedly, the names aren’t all household stars but few serious followers of the game will discount their abilities. This is important because they will play with genuine belief, particularly with the fanatic home support behind them. I expect them to suss Arsenal out in the opening exchanges and then come hard at the Gunners if they sense any weaknesses. This could turn into a painfully long game if Wenger’s side betrays any hints of diffidence (borne out of tactical chaos and not individual mental weaknesses) which might result in the defenders lumping the ball long and the side enduring attack after attack.
Hopefully, the technical abilities of the midfielders will prevent this situation and will also allow the Gunners to express their own capabilities going forward. They will have to endure a stern physical test if they are to establish their ball-playing rights.
As Mertesacker said, the first 20 minutes could be vital. Arsenal have to avoid conceding a goal in that period. Normally, getting one would be considered beneficial but after the Villa game it’s not so easy to assume that anymore.
Set-pieces and counter-attacks are two standard routes to the Arsenal goal that many opponents try to exploit. This shouldn’t be very different. But Wenger’s team can minimize the probability of conceding by maintaining the structural integrity of the defensive unit as a whole.
Two banks of four in themselves are useless. Defensive shape is not about pretty lines but about organization that covers key spaces and adds multiple layers of protection. Players forming neat lines without any reference to the opposition’s movement or the position of the ball will amount to nothing. The simple test for this is to observe whether the opponents are having to work hard to create openings or if they’re able to pass the ball around with ease while the visitors chase the ball in desperation.
Will we see the Ramsey-Wilshere partnership at the heart of midfield? It is certainly a work-in-progress and one that will invariably lead to defensive problems. Wenger might deem it’s a risk worth taking if it gives the players more experience and hastens their development, particularly that of young Jack who, despite all the hype, still has a lot to learn and prove. Playing deeper, in close proximity to their teammates, could lessen the impact of their positional and awareness issues as cover might be available. Nevertheless, it will be a surprise if Fenebahce don’t go into this game thinking they can get past the first and second line of Arsenal’s defence more often than they should.
In attack, the Gunners should again have enough to create some chances if they don’t get in each other’s way. There is no point in all the midfielders rushing forward. One of the weaknesses of Arsenal’s attack from last season carried forward to this is that there are too many players who want to run with the ball and make something spectacular happen. There isn’t enough movement and understanding without the ball, which is where the truly special actually comes to life in football. The potential is definitely there as the individual quality of most players is unquestionable, and I have no doubt Wenger is constantly working to unlock the potential that exists in them. How soon will he find the synergy remains to be seen.
On a more specific note, Walcott could be a big player for Arsenal in this game if the Turkish side come at the Gunners. In such a case he could get a lot more space to run into. Even then the midfield has to show the composure, vision, and precision to make use of those split second opportunities. I also believe Giroud will get opportunities in and around the box to score and to create. The way he linked with Rosicky in the previous game was a positive sign in search for attacking partnerships and combinations.
Arsenal’s squad travelling to Turkey seems strong enough but we don’t really know how many gambles are being taken here. We might see a couple of players start but not finish the game and that could affect the teams concentration and balance. Even if there aren’t any short term complications the doubts about long term fitness implications for key players will always exist when it seems individuals that aren’t completely ready are being made to play.
I don’t know if Wenger can make too many changes to the starting eleven that took the field against Villa. Cazorla, who seemed to lack match-fitness in that game, or Podolski might come in for the injured Oxlade-Chamberlain. The rest of the unit will probably be the same.
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Ramsey, Rosicky, Wilshere – Walcott, Giroud, Podolski.
Arsenal have the second leg at home but if current form and the mood of the home crowd is anything to go by then they need to get a result in Istanbul. Any defeat could put their fate in the hands of the Court of Arbitration for Sports and the powers that be in UEFA who have to decide the course of action if Fenerbahce’s ban is upheld.Follow @goonerdesi