Arsenal's first leg against Besiktas was a decidedly tricky tie. With the Gunners still struggling for form and fitness, the Turkish outfit provided a significant test. Arsenal will be relatively happy to have come away with a 0-0 scoreline, knowing they must simply win the home leg to ensure progression.
After the match, Arsene Wenger conceded to Arsenal.com that his side had been put through the mill: "Yes, it was a difficult match played at a high pace. Besiktas played with 100 per cent pace and did fought for every single ball. We needed a great level of concentration. We are still a bit short physically with some situations, but overall it was a game played for 90 minutes at great pace."
The tie effectively now comes down to one 90-minute play-off for a Champions League place. A score draw will be enough to take Besiktas through. Arsenal must put the Turkish team to the sword to make it through to the group stage.
It won’t be easy, particularly as the Gunners could be shorn of their first-choice midfield pairing. After being sent off for two yellow cards in the first leg, Aaron Ramsey will miss out with suspension.
After the match, Wenger’s displeasure with the decision was clear: "I think neither the first or the second yellow card was deserved. When you see some of the fouls made tonight and we go home with Ramsey red carded, it's a bit unbelievable."
However, no sense of injustice can reverse the referee’s call. Ramsey must watch the return leg from the sideline.
He could be joined there by Mikel Arteta. Arsenal’s new captain was forced from the field with an ankle problem, and he is a now a doubt for the clash with his former club Everton at the weekend. If he misses that match, it’s very possible he’ll struggle to get back in time to face Besiktas in midweek.
That leaves Wenger in the unenviable position of attempting to cobble together a midfield without either of his preferred pair.
Mathieu Flamini is likely to be the man chosen to replace Arteta. Like the Spaniard, he is comfortable in the holding role, and he can be used to guard the back four and break up the play.
Ramsey’s box-to-box responsibilities are likely to be handed to Jack Wilshere. Wilshere has played both of Arsenal’s games so far this season, and the Welshman’s absence will ensure he gets even more responsibility at the hub of the Arsenal XI.
With Flamini and Wilshere deployed in a double pivot, Arsenal will be able to find room for Mesut Ozil further upfield. Ozil has yet to appear for the Gunners this season, on account of his exertions in the World Cup. Adding him to the setup will add creativity and craft to the midfield.
Arsenal are blessed in that their selection problems are in an area in which they have plenty of depth. Wenger will still have the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby to call upon, if necessary.
Even without Arteta and Ramsey, Arsenal’s midfield should have enough to overcome Besiktas. The Champions League proper awaits.
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