Besiktas vs. Arsenal: How the Gunners Will Line Up in Champions League Game

Charlie MelmanCorrespondent IIAugust 18, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 16: Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal grimaces during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Crystal Palace at Emirates Stadium on August 16, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Arsenal looked sluggish and out of form in their win against Crystal Palace on Saturday, but they will need to be sharper for a trip to Besiktas in a Champions League qualifier.

The single caveat to the Gunners' traditional fourth-place trophy, other than the fact that it isn't a trophy, is that it does not automatically put the club into the Champions League proper. They must first survive a two-legged qualifier against a slightly inferior team.

This year, that opponent is Besiktas, a Turkish side that seem like relatively easy prey compared to other potential competitors like Athletic Bilbao but will actually be quite difficult to overcome.

Arsenal will, of course, be odds-on favorites to progress to the group stage of the Champions League, as they have during every year that Arsene Wenger has managed the club. But Besiktas have a rabid following in Turkey, and traveling all the way across Europe to enter their sonic cauldron with half a week of rest is far from ideal.

The Gunners would have a much easier time during the middle of the season when a) they have all of their players available and b) those players would be fully fit. But they are still missing their German core of Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker, and much of the team looked relatively languid against Crystal Palace.

It will be interesting to see how much the players' fatigue influences Wenger's selections. Here is how he might line his team up:


This starting XI is markedly similar to that which beat Crystal Palace, both out of necessity and the magnitude of the game.

Wojciech Szczesny, Mathieu Debuchy, Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez are guaranteed starters. Barring a last-minute injury, a combination of little competition and little reason to drop them anyway means they will start.

The only person who is not usually in that list is Monreal.

Kieran Gibbs, now Arsenal's undisputed starter and one of the best left backs in England, appeared to pull his hamstring against Palace and was taken off for Monreal in the second half. Hamstring injuries, no matter how minor, rarely heal in a matter of days, and Arsenal must hope that Gibbs returns in no longer than a few weeks.

There is little to fear, as Monreal is a capable deputy, but Gibbs' injury leaves the Gunners with only five fit defenders (assuming that Koscielny's limp after the Palace game was innocuous). That is unacceptable, and it makes their need for a central defensive signing utterly dire.

The midfield is easy to pick, although one wonders whether Jack Wilshere has completely recovered from the illness that caused Wenger to remove him a bit prematurely last weekend. Wilshere performed quite well against Palace and was one Arsenal's most lively and creative outlets.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 16:  Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Crystal Palace at Emirates Stadium on August 16, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

There are a few questions about whom Wenger will play in the three forward positions as well, but it is always safe to predict that he will go with his favorites.

Theo Walcott's absence means there is no one other than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to challenge Alexis Sanchez on the right wing, but that does not matter much given Alexis' energetic performance at the weekend.

Santi Cazorla, though, should be wary of Oxlade-Chamberlain's threat to his place, as the latter offered the energy and speed that the former completely lacked. Cazorla was positionally completely undisciplined, drifting all the way over to the right wing as if he was a roaming attacking midfielder and not a left winger.

That robbed Arsenal of any outlet on the left side apart from Kieran Gibbs and Monreal, and allowed Palace to concentrate their forces. Unsurprisingly, Arsenal's attack stalled under amplified pressure.

Cazorla will probably start again, as he is a Wenger favorite and gets the nod in almost every game for which he is fit. But he should be replaced soon, at least temporarily, if his performances do not improve.

Up front, Olivier Giroud should start if he is even marginally fitter than he was last weekend. His lack of sharpness is presumably the reason why Wenger preferred Yaya Sanogo, but it is difficult to imagine Giroud playing more aimlessly and languidly than his compatriot did last weekend.

Sanogo looked completely off the pace, while Giroud added direction and verve to Arsenal's attack after he was inserted into the game.

That could easily be the difference between a pressurized return leg or a comfortable victory lap when Arsenal and Besiktas meet again at the Emirates a week later.