Key Battles That Will Shape Arsenal's Champions League Clash with Besiktas
Besiktas are notoriously poor travelers; they lost to Liverpool 8-0 several years ago and have never progressed out of the group stage of the Champions League despite getting some favorable results at home.
The pressure will be on for Arsenal, though. Failure to qualify will be humiliating and will knock the club down from the elite status it claims.
Let's look at several key battles for the Gunners in this massive fixture.
Olivier Giroud vs. His Body
Olivier Giroud seemed to injure himself during his cameo against Everton last weekend, raising doubts about whether he will be able to lead the line against Besiktas.
While the Frenchman is constantly criticized for his often shoddy finishing and lack of technical nous, Arsenal's attack seems lost without the focal point that he provides.
The Guardian reports that Arsenal are still waiting on the results of a scan, but Telefoot (in French) quoted Giroud saying that he hopes to be on the pitch on Wednesday. For Arsenal's sake, let's hope so.
Demba Ba vs. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker
Demba Ba nearly punished Arsenal from the opening kickoff during the first leg, blasting a near-perfect drive at Wojciech Szczesny's goal a few seconds in. He proceeded to torment the Gunners' defense all game.
Arsenal were very lucky that Ba did not convert at least one of his many chances, usually gained by slipping off the shoulder of the last defender and holding the ball up after making a run.
This time, Arsenal's central defensive pairing will likely be Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, rather than Koscielny and Calum Chambers, so hopefully the presence of the giant German will help contain Ba. If they don't, the Gunners will likely be punished.
Olcay Sahan vs. Jack Wilshere
As ever, the outcome of the game will largely be decided by who wins the battle in midfield. That tussle will be fought disproportionately by the two teams' No. 10s.
Olcay Sahan and Jack Wilshere both worked extremely hard during the first leg, playing a box-to-box role and greasing the skids of their respective midfields. Sahan sat back more and distributed the ball while Wilshere attempted to play off the forwards.
The two will battle it out for possession in midfield throughout the game, and the winner of that battle will be able to dictate their team's attack.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain vs. Santi Cazorla
Despite Santi Cazorla's assist against Everton, the Spaniard has been greatly underwhelming in his first couple of appearances of the season. He seems listless on the left wing and fails to provide Arsenal with any width or pace whatsoever.
Conversely, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was one of Arsenal's only productive players against Besiktas, marauding down the right wing and nearly snatching victory in the final moments with a curling shot that struck the post.
Cazorla is a favorite of Arsene Wenger's and provides a bit more creativity on the left, but Oxlade-Chamberlain is one of Arsenal's only options with Theo Walcott out.
Wenger's selection will largely determine the structure and pace of Arsenal's attack.