It’s less than a week since the first leg was played last Wednesday and almost everything I had to say was covered by the pre and post-match write-ups. There isn’t much to add from a tactical point of view as nothing has changed, but that doesn’t mean another comfortable win for the Gunners is guaranteed.
Fenerbahce need at least three goals. Normally that would be considered a big ask but Arsenal’s defence at home has been weaker than most, if not all, of the big teams around Europe. They’ve already conceded three goals against Aston Villa in the only competitive fixture at the Emirates thus far this season. Last year Schalke scored two and Bayern three. Even the likes of Fulham and Newcastle scored three at the Emirates. None of the teams however, managed a scoreline that would eliminate the Gunners from the Champions League, but the fact that Arsenal can leak goals at home would not be lost on Yanal and his men.
As we saw in the return leg against Bayern last year, an early goal for the visitors can make such a tie very tricky because the team leading the tie can get caught up in two minds while the one chasing it has nothing further to lose and all to gain. It’s not always easy for the club with the upper hand to decide whether they should play it safe of if they should go for goals. In that sense, Wenger’s tendency to approach almost every game in a similar style is helpful. Arsenal should just play the way they’ve played in the last two games. Remain cautious and well-structured but always look for goals. Any goal for the Gunners will make it that much harder for the visitors. The players have to trust their technical skills and their training. They will advance if they can execute this.
They’ll have trouble if they suffer initially and the crowd gets on their backs. Fenerbahce are a better team than we saw in Istanbul. Don’t forget the hosts did create a fair number of chances as that game progressed, they just didn’t hit the goal as often as they needed to. Any drops in concentration or moments of anxiety can quickly escalate into trouble for the Gunners.
Wenger has said he’ll not rest players, which is not surprising at all because there are precious few options. Koscielny and Wilshere could start. If it were up to me I’d rest Sagna and Ramsey, two players who give a lot physically in each game.
Preferred starting line up,
Szczesny – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Rosicky, Cazorla, Wilshere – Walcott, Giroud, Podolski.
There is an element of risk with that line up because Arsenal could be short of bodies in some areas if they don’t have the engine of Ramsey in the middle. It’s quite likely that Wenger will go for the safer option and give the Welshman at least an hour and only take him off if the tie seems secure. Sagna is also one of his favourites, and understandably so, so I won’t be surprised if he too starts with Jenkinson on the bench. Leaving Podolski out will be extremely harsh and might even be a tad demoralizing for the player. Wenger can rest Rosicky or Cazorla if he wants to retain Podolski in the side.
The Arsenal manager will hope that his players do the job in the opening hour or so and give him the chance to give the likes of Monreal and Sanogo another run. It won’t be possible if Fenerbahce have scored a couple of goals by that time and found some sort of rhythm.
This game can create excellent momentum going into the North London Derby if the Gunners produce a dominant performance resulting in a good win. There will be serious question marks over their chances in that game if they barely scrape through. And it will be mayhem if they somehow manage to go out despite taking such a lead. Over the last year or so, every time I’ve thought Arsenal are doing well a nasty surprise comes along. That has forced me to temper down my expectations. Any result that ensures qualification will suffice.Follow @goonerdesi