After last week’s first leg failed to live up to expectations, Arsenal and Besiktas fans (and neutrals alike) will look to tomorrow’s match as the opportunity for these two teams to display their Champions League credentials in a do-or-die face off.
The first leg saw Arsenal scrap their way to a draw, after inconsistent refereeing, the cauldron of Turkish fanatics, Besiktas’ physical showing and the second-half sending off of Aaron Ramsey saw them fail to get their fluid football off the ground. Both sides struggle to get into a rhythm, but a couple of early chances to Besiktas could have had Arsenal heading into the second leg behind – which may have just destroyed any chance of signing the marquee forward/defensive midfielder Arsene Wenger is seeking to push for this season’s Premier League title.
After all, with Olivier Giroud facing a potential three month stint on the sideline after a scan showed a broken bone in his foot thanks to a rather harsh attempt on his ankles in the spectacular 2-2 draw at Goodison Park on the weekend, Wenger, who just last week was stating that his forwards were more than capable of handling the grueling fixture list that faces the North London side, must be considering his options after his only senior striker received a long-term injury.
It will be interesting to see the side that Wenger fields, especially considering Alexis Sanchez’s unconvincing display at centre-forward against Everton. All together, Arsenal are missing five senior players with Ramsey suspended and Giroud, Mikel Arteta, Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs all sidelined due to injury, and this will surely affect their confidence going into the second leg; especially considering Besiktas’ most important player, Atiba Hutchinson, is available for selection after injury kept him out of the first leg.
With Hutchinson causing trouble for Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini in the midfield this match will be a field day for bookies, and if Besiktas can manage to get an early goal and shut down their opponents early, we may just witness Arsenal drop out of the Champions League for the first time in 16 years – and with it losing any hope of attaining a quality centre-forward that could potentially fill the void left vacant by Giroud’s injury and fire them into the title race.
However, with this in mind, we must not forget a couple of things:
First of all, Arsenal have never lost in a Champions League play off, and after the spirited come-back at Goodison Park, the Gunners will surely be feeling good about their chances of keeping possession and playing their brand of football successfully; especially as the Emirates pitch is greatly removed from the roughness of the field in Istanbul, which made it much more difficult to instill the fluid passing that has made Wenger so successful in the past.
Secondly, although Besiktas do boast a quality forward in Demba Ba (as well as a quality midfielder in Hutchinson), Arsenal are considered one of the best teams in the world and, regardless of current form or an ever-growing injury list, the quality that is available to Wenger remains there. With these things in mind, let us look forward to the match with a promising outlook, being ensured at least that it will surely give us a quality match of football to enjoy, regardless of the victor.