Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Arsenal v Besiktas Preview

With the new season just over a week old Arsenal face their first do or die game at home to Besiktas tonight. It's hard to over estimate the importance of the Champions League for Arsenal when it comes to revenue earned and it's ability to attract new players. Added to that it's very important from a footballing perspective for the players to play against the best and the Champions League is where they will get to do just that. 

In the past Arsenal have more or less breezed through the final qualifying round of the Champions League and have won every tie at home and away. That changed when they drew 0-0 away to Besiktas last week, but they are still clear favourites to progresss to the group stages. It's almost unthinkable for Arsenal not to make it through to the group stages for what would be the seventeeth season in a row.

Arsenal have done pretty well on the face of it in the transfer market so far this summer with four new players arriving a lot earlier than has been the case in recent seasons. Three of those players were bought to replace departing players though which means Alexis Sanchez has been the only real addition to the squad. With a few injuries at the moment that Arsenal squad is looking very thin yet again and the transfer window is only a few days away from closing. Last season promised so much and ended with a trophy at last and the transfer activity in the next few days will show how much Arsenal can build on that promise.

I've never been the greatest fan of Olivier Giroud but he is Arsenal's best striking option at the moment and the injury he picked up on Saturday could be a huge blow to the team. If the reports are to be believed he could be out for as much as four months and his goals will be sorely missed if that is the case. I thought Arsenal needed another striker before his injury and now the case is even more pressing with only a few days to find that elusive striker.

The team tonight will give us an idea of how things might be with almost all of the potential replacements for him available to play. Neither Yaya Sanogo or Joel Campbell have scored a competitive goal for Arsenal although Campbell hasn't really had a chance yet and Sanogo spent most of last season injured. Sanchez can play in a central striking role but he hasn't got the presence of Giroud and is probably more suited to a wide role or playing off a player like Giroud. Arsene Wenger has often said he sees Lukas Podolski as a wide player and Theo Walcott is seen in more or less in the same mode when he returns.

The team is still struggling to come to terms with a season which seems to have come too soon for some of the players and the international break can't come quickly enough. Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker were drafted in against Everton on Saturday despite being clearly short of match fitness while Mikel Arteta and Kieran Gibbs have already succumbed to injury this season. With Walcott still a few weeks away from fitness the options for tonight aren't exactly limitless.

I think Mertesacker will play in defence alongside Laurent Koscielny which would see Calum Chambers drop to the bench for the first time this season. Chambers looks like a very good purchase but he still has a lot to learn and the combination of Koscielny and Mertesacker is still the best one for Arsenal once they are both fully fit. The rest of the defence picks itself as there are no other options besides Wojciech Szczesny and Nacho Monreal while I severely doubt Chambers will take Mathieu Debeuchey's place.

With Arteta injured Mathieu Flamini will obviously start in the defensive role in midfield with Jack Wilshere probably just in front of him. The red card Aaron Ramsey got in the away leg is a real blow to the team and it will mean Wilshere has a lot of work to do tonight. Despite being brought back too soon after his World Cup win Ozil is the most likely player to start in the creative role in midfield. It is possible that Santi Cazorla will play there with Ozil dropping to the bench but I doubt it.

I suspect Sanogo to get the nod in the central attacking role with his height being an important factor at set pieces at both ends. If Sanogo does get the nod I would expect to see Cazorla and Sanchez play on either side of him, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will come in if it's Sanchez who plays centrally. Sanchez got his first chance in that role at Everton on Saturday and only lasted 45 minutes before Giroud came on for him to change the game in Arsenal's favour. Sanchez is a fantastic player but he still has some adapting to do to the English game and how Arsenal play too.

Besiktas took a real hammering away to Liverpool a few years ago, but they have also won away to both Manchester United and Chelsea in recent years. For me it's really important for Arsenal to get the first goal tonight as it will bring out a Besiktas team who will be happy to defend in depth. If Aesenal can score that first goal I think others will follow as their opponents push forward in search of a goal to get back in the tie.

Besiktas have some good players but Arsenal have better players than them and those players need to step up to the plate tonight. I know it's a little early for some of them after their exploits of the summer but their club needs them more than ever tonight. With the draw for the group stages of the Champions League tomorrow Arsenal need to put themselves in there along with the best teams in Europe.

After that there's a trip to Leicester on Sunday and then the international break will be accompanied by the end of the transfer window. Hopefully everything that needs to be done will be done in that time and the season can start for real. It hasn't been easy getting through the games so far, but I think the team can do enough to get the result they need tonight and set themselves up for the challenges ahead. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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