A crucial fortnight in Arsenal’s season continues this evening in Istanbul. The summer that promised much, indeed saw Arsenal heavily favoured as dark horses in June’s Premier League betting got off to the worst possible start with injuries, suspensions and an opening day home defeat to Aston Villa. Repairing that damage will take time domestically but it is crucial that Arsenal do not stumble against Fenerbahce in the Champions League qualifying round. It might be a dead rubber when the judgement of the CAS is passed but Arsenal cannot rely on that, to progress they must do so through their own strengths.
If history and omens could decide matches, this tie would be over. The two sides have met four times, Arsenal remain unbeaten with some of the travelling squad retaining happy memories of 2008s visit to Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium, named after a former Fenerbahçe chairman and Turkish Prime Minister. Refereeing conspiracy theorists will surely have a field day in the knowledge that tonight’s official, Gianluca Rocchi, has never been in charge of a club or international match where an English side has lost and officiated Arsenal’s 2008 draw in Dortmund. Would that omens could cast aside demons.
And Arsène faced down his demons in the form of the press yesterday. Frankly, it didn’t go too well.
Matters did not get off to the best of starts when Wenger reported that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be out for six weeks, only to be roundly contradicted by the player on his Twitter account claiming it was three months. In front of the massed ranks, Arsène was visibly irritated before proceedings got underway, his mood not improving as questions turned to the lack of new arrivals at the club. I say turned but the reality is there were precious few on tonight’s match; little wonder he was irascible.
Having pointed out that the club does not conduct its business in public – conveniently omitting that they do so when it suits them – Wenger turned on his favourite target, the media, as the source of discontent. His frustrations boiled over, highlighting their ‘contradictory’ nature of their stories without recognising this as the media’s natural stance. Damned if you do or more pertinently, damned because you haven’t.
There is no point in Wenger believing the window should be closed before a season starts, it would give him less time to achieve nothing on this summer’s showing. No matter how he may rail against opinions, the fact is that he has signed a player on a free transfer and no-one else, leaving his squad painfully thin. If he needs to look for a source of discontent and frustration, the mirror will give him the answers he needs in both instances. To put matters into perspective, even if Arsenal manage to sign a centre back or midfielder before the weekend, will they play at Craven Cottage? With one training session behind them, it seems unlikely and a huge risk. That said, playing Bacary Sagna there is no different in that sense. Wenger’s transfer track record over sixteen years does stand up to scrutiny but more recently is very mixed. Arguably, the more time passes before he signs someone, the chances of that player being an unqualified success diminish. For every Cazorla, there is a Park.
It is clear that the manager does not like being questioned on his role but as he said at the weekend, he has a public job and the scrutiny he is under will change only when things are going well. Having been lauded in the past, surely he enough self-awareness to know that the media pattern is to knock someone down when given the opportunity?
He does not help himself either,
If you look at the players who play, they are top quality players. You should never forget that. It is not always to think what is outside is better than what you have. What is important as well is to rate what you have and our fans have to understand that as well
Perhaps he should pay more attention to what is being demanded. Strengthening the squad means adding to them and his requests to trust him are wearing thin. Do I believe the club will get the numbers and balance of the squad right by the end of the window? I want to but I am not convinced. Even if they do, there is a necessity for a thorough internal review to understand why the club allowed the squad to go into the season without additions, particularly as the requirements have not changed since May.
More names are being bandied around but only Paul Pogba was not mooted as last season closed. Williams, Michu, Begovic; all names floated as potential signings, nothing has happened before now so if any are signed, do we presume that the club has failed to land their key targets and is moving down the list because these are domestic-based players whom you would rightly assume could have been landed sooner. Whichever way the manager cuts it, whomever he rails against, it is an inescapable fact that the club have made an utter mess of this transfer window.
It leaves Arsène looking for a knight on a white charger to come to his aid. Fortunately, he is already sitting in the wings. Tony Adams has all the solutions to Arsenal’s problems and having tried for various roles at the clubs, has turned his sights firmly on the manager’s job when the time comes. Great player that he was and whilst he talks some sense (on this occasion), it isn’t going to happen. And there we let that one rest.
And I know you have reached this far wondering why there hasn’t been much of a match preview but let’s be honest, the squad is so shorn of options that the starting line-up is almost picking itself:
Szczesny; Sagna (Jenkinson), Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs (Monreal); Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky; Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla
Despite their troubles, Arsenal remain favourites to progress over the two legs, according to bet365 and they should do so. The players are experienced enough to know the dangers of falling behind here but losing by a single goal may not be a disaster in the context of the tie. For Wenger, it will be a horrible result and pressure will build on him until the second leg but the starting XI is good enough to get a positive result and it will a major surprise, as well as being hugely disappointing, if they do not.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.