By Richard Clarke in Istanbul
Arsène Wenger wants his side to prey on Fenerbahce’s flagging confidence in the opening stages of tonight’s Champions League Group G tie in Istanbul.
The Turkish side are struggling right now. They are only 10th in the domestic League and defeat this evening would leave them long-shots to reach the Knockout Stages of Europe’s top competition. Coach Luis Aragones was only appointed in August but his position is already under severe scrutiny.
However, the Sukru Saracolgu Stadium remains Fenerbahce’s fortress. They won all five games there last year en route to the Quarter-Finals, including a famous comeback against Chelsea, and the Turkish supporters pride themselves on creating an intense, intimidating atmosphere.
That is why, despite a number of injuries in defence, Wenger knows his young side must impose themselves early or they are in danger of being swept away.
“It is a big night for us,” admitted Wenger. “They have dropped many points already in the Champions League and it is important to start in the right way so we don’t give them the needed confidence.
“I am not worried about the atmosphere but we have to play to dictate our game. We don’t have a team who is built to defend more than attack. We will play. We will want to attack.”
That may be Arsenal’s best policy given the injuries at the back. William Gallas (hamstring) and Bacary Sagna (knee) are still out while Kolo Toure is missing after damaging shoulder ligaments at the weekend.
“We can not lose any more defenders that is for sure,” said. Wenger. “But we will start with the team that finished the game against Everton.”
That means Alex Song will continue at centre back despite Johan Djourou’s recovery from concussion suffered on international duty. Striker Nicklas Bendtner is also available after recovering from an ankle problem.
The feeling around Fenerbahce right now is partly a product of the hype that surrounded the arrival of Aragones in August. He was fresh from masterminding a breakthrough win for Spainish international football and the feeling was he could do the same thing in Turkey. As result, Fenerbahce sold 30,000 season tickets in the summer, a national record.
An injury list including nine major names has not helped but, despite their current plight, Wenger argues they still possess real quality.
“I feel Fenerbahce are a team who have not had the best start,” he said. “But they still have top class players in every position.
“They have a lot of offensive potential because they have many Brazilians in their squad. Also they have players who have played in England like Emre and Colin Kazim-Richards. Then there is Daniel Guiza, who plays for Spain, and Roberto Carlos.
“Also they have a remarkable player for the final ball - Alex. He is very good at the final solution.
“You expect them to put us under pressure with their offensive play so you have to defend well against a team like that."
Attack, defence or midfield, tonight will be a major test of Wenger' side. Three points will as good as put them through given the home games to come.
But surely a draw would be creditable too.
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