A Champions League group stages without Arsenal seems unprecedented. Indeed, it is 17 years since it last occurred. Yet after last week’s goalless first leg in Istanbul, the Gunners’ customary place in club football’s premier competition has taken on an air of precariousness.
They have had plenty of close-calls in reaching the all-important fourth place in the Premier League but have had few nervy moments when it has come to the qualifying rounds. They have progressed each of the six times they have found themselves at this stage, winning all 12 matches along the way. Last week’s draw was the first blemish on that spotless record and after a shaky start to the season, Arsene Wenger and his men will no doubt be feeling the pressure ahead of this crucial second leg. Recent high-profile recruits Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez didn’t come to North London to miss out on Champions League football so there is no getting away from the fact that this is a must-win game.
Wenger will have been pleased to keep a clean sheet away from home in front of a typically fervent Turkish crowd but there’ll be a pang of disappointment that they couldn’t nick an away goal that would have considerably eased the pressure for this second leg.
When faced with such pressure it is hardly ideal to be without your midfield maestro and your first choice centre forward. Aaron Ramsey is certainly ruled out having been sent off in the first leg, while Olivier Giroud may also miss out due to the ankle knock he picked up in the dying embers of Saturday’s visit to Everton. If so, it is likely that Alexis Sanchez will be employed through the middle as he was at Goodison Park.
It has already been a congested start to the season for Arsenal, yet Wenger simply cannot afford to play around with his squad. The Gunners will go into this at full strength and mindful of the gravity of the occasion.
KICK-OFF: Wednesday, 7.45pm
Prior to last week’s first leg, the sides had never met before.
Last week’s draw was the first time Arsenal have failed to win a Champions League qualifying match.
Besiktas have not featured in the Champions League group stage since the 2009/10 campaign.
Arsenal are yet to lose over 90 minutes in the 7 games they have played against Turkish opposition, conceding just twice.
Arsenal will be without Aaron Ramsey, who has score in 5 of Arsenal’s last 6 competitive fixtures.
Arsenal to win: 1.42
Besiktas to win: 9.4
Live on Sky Sports 5 at 7.45pm. Highlights on Sky Sports 5 at 10pm.
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