Arsenal prepared for tricky Turkish assignment
Arsene Wenger’s side defending a proud record in Champions League qualifiers
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger talks to his players during a team training session at their training ground in London Colney, north of London. Photographer: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
The team had departed Luton bound for this city’s Ataturk airport only to discover mid-air that their charter flight had been diverted to Sabiha Gokcen, the terminal on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. Cruise on another 500 miles and the pilot had been instructed to revert to Plan A. At least that spared the squad a two-hour journey through Istanbul’s choking gridlock. In truth landing in the correct continent is generally advisable.
Arsenal will hope this is as awkward as their two-legged tie with Besiktas gets.
Arsene Wenger and his club have an unblemished record in qualifiers for this competition, with all 12 of their play-off matches over the last eight years having been won, taking in contests with sides from Zagreb to Prague, Glasgow to Enschede.
They were in Istanbul this time last year, enduring Fenerbahce’s initial surge of aggression before their own quality told rather more emphatically. Besiktas, a club banned from the Europa League last season for match fixing but a team revived under new ownership and ambitious management, will offer their own threat having won their last 12 home games in Uefa qualifying phases.
Even so, Arsenal will expect to find a way to prevail.
Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla may enjoy the space in which to thrive and Aaron Ramsey’s form makes him a potent threat. With Yaya Sanogo having remained in England with a slight thigh problem, Olivier Giroud will lead the line.
Besiktas are relishing life under Slaven Bilic.
They have the former Chelsea trainee Gokhan Tore, Kerim Frei, recently of Fulham, and the former Arsenal academy player Oguzhan Ozyakup in their number. Demba Ba’s arrival from Chelsea offers the Turkish side a focal point up front after his frustrating 18 months in south-west London.
He registered a hat-trick on home debut to secure passage beyond Feyenoord in the third qualifying round so Arsenal have been warned.