Besiktas vs Arsenal: Arsene Wenger wary of Turkish threat in Champions League as crucial games come thick and fast
Wenger tells Gunners to be aware of the "big test" they face
Tuesday 19 August 2014
Arsène Wenger has warned his Arsenal players of the intense physical test of playing Besiktas here in Istanbul tonight in the Champions League before returning to face Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday evening.
London to Istanbul is a long enough journey as it is without yesterday evening’s confusion over whether Arsenal were flying into Ataturk or Sabiha Gokcen airports – and where their pre-match press conference would be held, at which Wenger admitted that his players would face a difficult run of three games in just over a week, ending in the home second leg against the Turkish side a week tomorrow.
“It’s a big test,” Wenger said at the Olympic Stadium. “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 is on the back of a good result against Feyenoord, We’re on our toes and want to produce a good result.”
Arsenal go into the game with two first-choice defenders missing. Kieran Gibbs has a hamstring problem, sustained in Saturday’s defeat of Crystal Palace, and “will be out for three to four weeks”. Per Mertesacker, still regaining fitness after the World Cup, has not travelled to Turkey. “He has recovered quite well,” Wenger said of the Germany centre-half, “there shouldn’t be a problem.” Mathieu Flamini is likely to start for Arsenal as Wenger rotates his side with Saturday’s game at Everton on his mind
Winning these play-off games has never been too difficult for Arsenal in the past. They have won all 12 matches they have been involved in, against Dynamo Zagreb, Sparta Prague, Twente, Celtic, Udinese and Fenerbahce, ensuring 14 consecutive seasons in the Champions League group stage.
Wenger refused to take that record of success as evidence that tonight would be easy. “I have a good experience in the Champions League,” he said, before predicting a difficult tie. “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.”
Some of those play-off victories were harder won than others but the most consequential game was in Udine in 2011, when a rather flimsy Arsenal squad gave so much in victory, in the late-summer heat, that they were beaten 8-2 by Manchester United days later, the scale of that defeat casting a shadow over the whole 2011-12 season.
A precise repeat of 2011 is certainly unlikely this week – Arsenal are a far stronger, more resilient side than they were three years ago, but nevertheless they would like to take a side as fresh as possible to Everton, one of their hardest games of the season.
The issue, then, is with the travelling and the physical strain as much as it is the opposition itself. Kieran Gibbs is set to miss three weeks with injury
The performance against Crystal Palace at the Emirates on Saturday evening, when they needed Aaron Ramsey’s added-time goal to win the game, shows that Arsenal, like many teams, are still reaching for fitness. Mathieu Flamini is likely to come in, to add experience and muscle in midfield. Spanish teenage right-back Hector Bellerin has travelled with the squad, as have Ignasi Miquel and Abou Diaby.
Arsenal managed last season to overcome Fenerbahce in their ferocious Sukru Saracoglu stadium, winning comfortably 3-0 in the end, but they will not suffer quite the same atmospheric threat this year. Besiktas’s city-centre ground is being rebuilt so the game is being played at the Olympic Stadium on the western edge of Istanbul, although Wenger tried to play down the differences between the two occasions.
“What we’ve learnt is that we started strong last year and played our game with good determination,” he recalled. “We’ll try to do that again. It doesn’t matter that the game is not in Besiktas’s stadium. The people who will come out tomorrow will support Besiktas.”
Latest in Sport
David De Gea to Real Madrid: Spanish club resume £28m pursuit after fending Manchester United off Sergio Ramos
Karim Benzema to Arsenal: Transfer news live - Angel Di Maria to leave Manchester United, Emmanuel Adebayor to Aston Villa
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015 Third Test Day One report: England skittle Australia for 136, James Anderson takes six wickets, Ian Bell hits half-century
Nicolas Otamendi to Manchester United: Sergio Ramos is only defender of interest to Louis van Gaal
- 1 Australia to impose 24-hour curfew on all cats to protect endangered species
- 2 Model's video shoot on the beach interrupted by sudden landing of a group of illegal migrants
- 3 The difference between a psychopath and a sociopath
- 4 MH370: Boeing 777 wing that could match missing plane found on the French island of Reunion
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
I am the Jeremy Corbyn supporter that many will tell you doesn't exist
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband
Labour leadership contest: I would never quit the party, says Liz Kendall