Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa at the Emirates on Saturday’s opening game of the Premier League season was a huge disappointment for the manager, the team and the fans but last time the Gunners suffered such a blow, it worked wonders. Almost.
Arsenal’s defeat at White Hart Lane to North London rivals Tottenham last term left them in a ‘spiral of negativity’. The fans were disillusioned on the brink of munity against the manager and the board. Déjà vu anyone?
The Gunners had been beaten 3-1 at the Emirates in the first-leg of their Champions League last sixteen tie with Bayern Munich. The manager was intent on dropping a number of his first team stars to the bench, including his number one goalkeeper and his captain.
Bacary Sagna was injured, as was Lukas Podolski – it seemed as if there was no way they could over turn their defeat in the first leg. They didn’t, ultimately, but they came very very close. They beat the eventual Champions League winners 2-0 at the Allianz Arena and that result and performance galvanized them to march up the table into the top four in the league towards the run-in.
Flash forward five months and the script and cast are very similar – the only new face is 20-year-old Yaya Sanogo – and after all their hard work in making fourth place last term, the Gunners head out to Istanbul to face a fierce Fenerbahce side as they go head to head for the right to play in the continent’s elite competition.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s knee injury on Saturday rules him out – possibly for between three and six months which is a huge blow – and Bacary Sagna’s horrific fall likely rules him out – if he plays, he’ll be walking wounded as will Kieran Gibbs after the nasty gash to his head on Saturday.
The captain is out through injury as is Arsenal’s alternative left-back Nacho Monreal. They’ll likely only have youngster Carl Jenkinson as their only recognized fullback. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny will have to play with the utmost caution as the only two fit centre-backs and Wenger will have to be creative with a makeshift left-back if Gibbs doesn’t recover.
In midfield, Aaron Ramsey is a doubt, Mikel Arteta is out, Santi Cazorla isn’t match fit but he’ll probably have to play as will Jack Wilshere who’s only just returned from a lengthy recovery after yet another operation this summer.
Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski will likely start on the flanks with Olivier Giroud up front and I’d expect Wojceich Szczesny to start between the sticks. They must play in Istanbul with the same energy, the same focus and commitment, efficiency and organization as they played with in Munich in March.
They must press high up the pitch and retain possession at all costs. They must keep their shape perfectly and avoid defeat through defensive organization – they must defend as a team as they did at the end of last term. They can afford to draw and then make it count at the Emirates but a loss in Turkey could be devastating.
Fenerbahce are just as aerial powerful as Bayern so they must use Giroud in both an offensive and defensive capacity in both boxes. They must play with intensity and clear intent and, crucially, they must be efficient in front of goal.
Bayern Munich had 21 shots in that game of which 9 were on target compared to Arsenal’s 5 shots and just 3 on target. That is a huge gulf in efficiency. Arsenal had three shots on target and scored two goals, Bayern Munich scored none. That’s a 67% success rate in terms of shot conversion and a 60% success rate in the final third compared to Bayern’s 0% success rate for shot conversion and 42% success rate in the final third.
If Arsenal press Fenerbahce high up the pitch, focus on keeping the ball and using it efficiently they can come back with a win to a heroes welcome. Despite all the negativity amongst the fans, they still support the team and it’ll be a huge boost if they can win the game on Wednesday against such adversity.
They’ll need a little bit of luck – an injury to any of the starting XI could cripple them – and they’ll need to keep eleven men on the pitch. They’ll need to be mentally and physically prepared to play for 90 minutes at high intensity as Wenger has pretty much no options from the bench.
An early goal would help but any goal will do, as they’ll likely need to capitalize on the away goals advantage to put pressure on Fenerbahce for the second leg at the Emirates.
If Arsenal can beat the champions of Europe 2-0 in their own back yard with a team in less than optimum shape then they can go out to Turkey and do what they have to. They may be light on options and they made be hurting from Saturday but they can use that and turn it into fighting spirit.
image: © wonker