Arsenal have a chance to redeem themselves tonight as they get right back at it in Istanbul, Turkey when they on Fenerbahce in the first leg of their qualifying playoff series. The Gunners of course were a huge disappointment in their season-opener in the Premier League on Saturday when they dropped a 3-1 decision to Aston Villa. A few thousand fans took out their anger verbally on manager Arsene Wenger after Villa’s third goal for his lack of purchases in the transfer window.
To add to the problem, it looks like the Gunners squad could be hit with the loss of young English international Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as he suffered a knee injury during the match and was replaced at half time. The worst-case scenario would see Oxlade-Chamberlain miss up to six months of action. Wenger realizes just how important it is for his players to bounce back in Turkey by stating after the Villa game, “I believe our season will depend on how we respond to this defeat.”
Fenerbahce is in the same boat as they also dropped their season-opening match 3-2 to Konyaspor after blowing a 2-0 lead in the last 13 minutes. However, they could find out later this month that their efforts against Arsenal in these Champions League clashes are all for naught. This is because Fenerbahce has actually been booted out of European competition for two seasons by UEFA and are awaiting word on their appeal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
The club was given their marching orders by UEFA because of a match-fixing scandal in the Turkish League in 2010/11, but the team has been allowed to participate in the Champions League until the CAS makes its ruling. The CAS said they’d have an answer by August 28, but the second leg of the tie takes place at the emirates on Aug. 27. It’s possible that Fenerbahce wins the series and is ten thrown out of the event.
If this happens UEFA will have to decide if the Gunners advance to the group stage or if they’ll have to play Salzburg of Austria in another playoff round. Salzburg was beaten by Fenerbahce in an earlier playoff series and allowing them to meet Arsenal in a two-legged tie would be the fair thing to do.
Fenerbahce’s Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt sent a letter to UEFA regarding the club’s punishment, but it likely won’t have any effect on the CAS ruling since the team’s president and several other officials were found guilty of match-fixing during a criminal trial.
Getting back to the Gunners, they still have several players on the shelf due to injuries and it looks like defenders Nacho Monreal and Thomas Vermaelen will miss the match in Istanbul along with midfielders Abou Diaby and Mikel Arteta. Defenders Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs were injured in the game against Villa and both were substituted. Their status won’t be known until game time.
Fenerbahce manager Ersun Yanal will be without the services of Erten Ersu as he’s out with a knee injury, but Gonul Gokhan could be back in the squad following after recovering from surgery. The last time these clubs met in the Champions League was back in the 2008/09 campaign during the group stage. The Gunners were impressive in a 5-2 win in Istanbul, but managed just a 0-0 draw at home.
Arsenal can’t rely on any outside help to get through to the group stage of the Champions League. Of course, they’ll be guaranteed a spot if they beat Fenerbahce, but it’s possible they could lose the series and still get a second chance, depending on the CAS ruling. This is something Wenger and the players shouldn’t be thinking about when they take to the pitch tomorrow though. They need to improve greatly over Saturday’s performance and get back on track as soon as possible.