A difficult week could be made much more bearable on Wednesday night should Arsenal beat Besiktas to reach the group stages of the Champions League for the seventeenth consecutive season. The online Arsenal world is alive with talk of injuries and potential transfers. They have to be put on the back burner for the first “must-win” game of the new season.
We go into the match without the injured Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta, Theo Walcott, and Olivier Giroud plus the suspended Aaron Ramsey. The latter duo will certainly be missed but this is an opportunity for others to step up to the plate and impress. I may be wrong, but the starting eleven almost picks itself in these circumstances.
Wojciech Szczesny should start behind the strongest back four available which would mean Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny starting in the centre of the defence for the first time this season. That is undoubtedly harsh on Calum Chambers, but there is no shame in being behind that first-choice pairing. Can Calum play left-back? The situation probably means that the more experienced, if inconsistent, Nacho Monreal keeps the job.
In midfield there is an opportunity for Mathieu Flamini to get another yellow card under his belt alongside Jack Wilshere, who must surely surrender the playmaking role to Mesut Ozil in order to restore some balance to the side. The attacking trio provide the one area perhaps where the boss will be wrestling with his options. I suspect it will be Alexis on the right, Santi Cazorla on the left, and Yaya Sanogo leading the line. There is however the option of starting Alexis in the centre, not an outrageous success at Goodison Park, and play Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Tomas Rosicky on the right.
Besiktas come into the game fresh, having not played at the weekend. They showed last week that we can take nothing for granted. They created chances and in Demba Ba have a player who knows how to find the net in English conditions. Turkish teams traditionally haven’t traveled well but there is a change sweeping through that league, and to be fair Besiktas are unbeaten in their last three away Champions League fixtures. Slaven Bilic brings a fresh approach, and whilst they may well rely on a cautious counter-atttacking game they appear to have more ambition than many in recent years. As Bilic himself said,
“We have a dream, a hope. It’s more of a plan though, and we are going to do everything we can to fulfil it. We have prepared our game, our plan. I have big belief in my assistants and they are going to do the job.”
The ‘holic pound goes in search of value, and will be a smaller than usual bet. I have to be honest, this is pure guesswork and not as informed as would normally be the case. Bookies are nervous of 1-0 and 2-0 at 13/2, but I’m tempted by the eights on 2-1. Actually, I’m tempted by a back-up punt on 3-1 at thirteens. Whatever.
For those lucky enough to be going, have an enjoyable evening. As for the rest, I hope you have a decent stream. Luckily I have Sky Sports 5 so, whoop whoop. Take care, all, and please, keep it civil in the drinks. Thank you.