Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Besiktas preview + Is Wenger done for the summer?

Preview | Pre-match conference | Team news

We need to do well in the Champions League this season, but for that we need to get through the most basic requirement – which is rather simple, really.

Besiktas away is a potentially tricky test, but I feel that it’s been rather overrated. It’s almost like people are saying "don’t underestimate them" simply for the heck of it. In truth, it’d be quite the achievement if we manage to (what is the word for...?) fuck this up. I agree that it’s a very important clash that would go oceans into judging our season, but going as far as saying that Besiktas at Turkey should be treated with extreme caution is, frankly, an insult to our talented squad.

Is our team so incapable that we find it difficult to beat a team that finished third in the Turkish League? Given our eight year record in the playoff area, and particularly our 3-0 win against Fenerbache roughly a year ago with a mismatch team, I daresay this match should be one of the easiest we face this season.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the sentiment of not underestimating the opposition, better safe than sorry stuff. My concerns lie, however, when not underestimating the opposition quickly turns to overrating them. Sometimes it’s healthy, but sometimes it’s just counterproductive and useless. If we trash them 3-0 or 4-1 in Turkey, the perception created prior to the match about Besiktas being roughly equivalent to Turkey’s Bayern Munich would result in Gooners incorrectly singing undue plaudits upon the team, hailing them as title favourites and heaping more pressure than necessary on the lads.

The significance of the match is undoubtedly vast, but let’s face it – the quality of the opponent isn’t. With that respect, I find the practice of playing men like Ramsey and Sanchez a bit extreme. I know I wouldn’t risk Aaron and Alexis missing Everton away because they played ninety minutes and comfortably saw through Besiktas. Then again, I'm not paid £8m a year.

Using fresher, like-for-like replacements like Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Giroud would be really wise from Arsene. There’s little virtue in overplaying the likes of Ramsey, Cazorla and even Sanchez for this match, unless Wenger opines that Besiktas would be tougher than Everton away, which is really unlikely. Hopefully, we’ll see a more rotated lineup of Szczesny – Debuchy – Chambers – Koscielny – Monreal – Arteta – Wilshere – Cazorla – Rosicky – Chamberlain – Giroud, or something of that sort. Maybe even throw in a bit of Campbell and Flamini in there?

I wouldn’t be too concerned about this match. I’m confident we’ll pull a decent result, providing we defend well on set-pieces. Let’s face it – if we give away free headers [as we have in the past matches (including pre-season)] to a guy like Demba Ba, we’re inviting trouble.

Aside from set-pieces, however, I see no reason why we shouldn’t see this game through with much trouble. A 2-0 or 3-0 win for me.

I’ve jinxed it, haven’t I?


As if that wasn't enough, the injury gods have set a 2-3 week timeline to Kieran Gibbs’ injury. Aside from the back four that are starting today - out of which Koscielny is a bit of a question mark – we have zero match fit defenders to go on with. I heard Bellerin is making the trip to Turkey. Now, I like Bellerin, he impressed me in pre-season and all that, but I have a strong suspicion (as do many) that Hector is used more as a stop-gap than a well thought-of choice here. I wouldn’t particularly mind if Wenger decides to promote Bellerin as Debuchy’s deputy and make Calum Chambers a backup to our centre-halves, but Bellerin’s exclusion from Arsenal’s category of first team players suggests that that may not be the case.

We’re desperately short on full-backs. We’re one injury away from bringing on a player who Arsene Wenger perceives as a reserve. Even if we have all of our defenders fit, we have merely six of them to work with. Number-wise, we’ve gone backwards from last season. And plenty would argue that we weren’t well-stocked on centre backs the last time around.

If Wenger looks to promote Bellerin and make Chambers a centre back, we’ll still need at least one more centre half. What happened to the days when Wenger employed five centre backs in the club, of Koscielny, Squillaci, Djourou, Vermaelen, and Ignasi Miquel? Why has that number fallen down to merely three? In addition, at a time when we should be in the market for (at most) two defenders, why are we not seeing any concrete links to any centre backs?

Now, I know I got it all wrong about this transfer window, by confidently saying that by this time we wouldn’t have bought more than two players. However, my concerns lie that Wenger has chosen to close his book for the summer. Possibly, he’s seeing the buzz and atmosphere around the club and mooting, "Well, the pressure’s off me, I could just save the money for next year". He’s done it before, lest we forget. Remember 2012, when he bought Santi, Podolski and Giroud, and when the hard part was over and he just needed to get a DM, he shut his transfer chequebook?

We need two, if not three players in the club. An ideal, not impossible scenario would be if Wenger buys a pure centre back and then buys a versatile defensive midfielder, who can also fill in defence. However, since my trust in pretty much everything has extinguished after Cesc left for Chelsea, I’m going to go out on a limb once again and say that Wenger is done for the summer. He may get the odd promising centre back, but not enough number-wise to sustain a title challenge throughout the year.

I’d love it if I’m wrong, like back in July.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]