Troubled Fener, Arsenal meet in key playoff game

Troubled Fener, Arsenal meet in key playoff game

ISTANBUL - Agence France-Presse
Troubled Fener, Arsenal meet in key playoff game

Fenerbahçe players celebrate a goal by Raul Meireles (14) against Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League third qualifying round. Fenerbahçe lost back-to-back games after that win. DHA photo

Fenerbahçe takes on Arsenal in the first leg of the Champions League playoffs on Wednesday in a game where both teams are hoping to bounce back from their troublesome start to the new football campaign.

The Turkish side will try to get a positive first-leg result against the English heavyweights, and coach Ersun Yanal himself will be hoping to restore some confidence after back-to-back defeats.
Fenerbahçe allowed a late Torku Konyaspor comeback to lose 3-2 on the first round of the Spor Toto Super League, only six days after losing the Turkish Super Cup to arch rival Galatasaray 1-0 in extra-time. The Arsenal game comes at a time when Fenerbahçe needs to remember some of its Europa League performances from last season, when the team advanced to the semifinals. However, even a successful run and knocking Arsenal out might not be enough for Fenerbahçe as the team is still facing a ban from European competitions.

Fenerbahçe finished second last season, but was handed a two-year ban for match-fixing by UEFA in June which related to the end of the 2010-11 domestic championship. However, it was reinstated in the competition after an emergency ruling by Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is pending a full hearing after the conclusion of the playoff.

Arsenal has also suffered a dismal start to the Premier League campaign as Aston Villa romped to a surprise 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium on Aug. 17.

Arsenal’s lackluster display sparked a furious response from Gunners fans, who left Wenger in no doubt they blame him for failing to fulfil the club’s pre-season promise to spend big on new signings.

The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust joined the chorus of disapproval on Aug. 19 when they called on the club to halt any contract talks with Wenger and focus instead on rebuilding the squad.

Under pressure

After eight years without a trophy, manager Arsene Wenger and his players are already under intense pressure and failing to qualify for the lucrative Champions League group stages would be a disaster in the current climate of dissatisfaction.

But to make matters worse for Wenger, he was hit with a series of injuries against Villa which have left him with just eight fully fit senior players.

England midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sustained a serious knee problem that could rule him out for several months, while Kieran Gibbs, Bacary Sagna, Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey joined a growing injury list that already includes Mikel Arteta, Nacho Monreal and Thomas Vermaelen.

In the circumstances, Wenger could have done with an easier task than trying to emerge unscathed from Fenerbahçe’s deafening Şükrü Saracoğlu stadium.

And Wenger let his guard down as he conceded his team are currently more fragile than he would like.

“We missed chances, were unlucky and had injuries, roll the three together and it is a fragile position, but the difference between us and the rest is not massive,” the Frenchman said.

“I believe our season will depend on how we respond to this defeat.

“After such a disappointing start it will be difficult, but we will bounce back because the spirit and the focus in the team is good.

“It is a vital game for us because we have fought very hard to be in this position.

“It is a tricky fixture, but we want to finish the job now.” With only one signing since the end of last season and a series of failed bids for the likes of Luis Suarez, Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Gustavo, Wenger sorely needs a new face or two to lift spirits at the Emirates.

But there was no sign of Wenger’s luck improving before Arsenal headed to Turkey as Newcastle rejected his reported 12 million bid for France midfielder Yohan Cabaye.

An Arsenal offer of a combined 35 million bid for Swansea duo Michu and Ashley Williams is said to be in the pipeline, while moves for Schalke’s Japanese right-back Atsuto Uchida and Atletico Madrid defender Juanfran have also been suggested.