Preview by Numbers: Besiktas v. Arsenal, Champions League Play-off, First Leg

Ataturk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul
Tuesday, August 19
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials from Serbia
    • Referee: Milorad Mazic
    • Assistants: Milovan Ristic and Dalibor Djurdjevic
    • 4th Official: Danilo Grujic and Dejan Filipovic
    • Additional Assistants: Vladimir Jovanovic
  • All-Time in All Competitions: First competitive meeting
  • Arsenal's European Form: L-W-W-L-L-D
  • Beskitas's European Form: W-L-L-L // L-W
  • Weather: Clear and Breezy, 24 C / 76 F
Olivier Giroud hangs out with
some new friends during training.
It took 90+1 minutes, but Arsenal captured all three points on Saturday against Crystal Palace. While the performance might not have been anything to write home about, when you're coming back from a World Cup summer, where players return in drips and drabs, results are all that matter. The three points count the same from every match. Are there some things that need ironing out? Of course there are. But, that's the kind of thing (especially in terms of sharpness and match fitness) that can only be resolved in time.

Arsenal change gears now and look to qualify for the Champions League group stage for the 17th consecutive year as they take on Besiktas in Istanbul. In a much more dire position last summer in terms of the squad, Arsenal progressed nicely past Fenerbahce, which has to be seem as a similar situational circumstance. If last year's squad could advance 5-0 on aggregate, this year's squad has to have similar expectations.

Besiktas have a few threats in their squad, most notable Demba Ba, acquired from Chelsea this summer. That said, Arsenal seem to have their mindset right; all of their players have talked about how "desperate" they are to qualify, which clearly shows they won't be taking the Turkish side too lightly.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gibbs (hamstring,) Sanogo (hamstring,) Ospina (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Gnabry (knee,) Miyaichi (hamstring)
World Cup Absences: Ozil, Podolski, Mertesacker
Doubts: Koscielny (Achilles)

The German contingent does the robot during a
side training session this week.
Arsenal's big questions still revolve around the back four, especially with the news that Kieran Gibbs will miss three weeks thanks to a hamstring strain. There remain doubts over Laurent Koscielny's Achilles as well, though the fact that Per Mertesacker did not take the flight to Istanbul means that he will not be used as emergency cover, which must mean Kos is more than likely to start. With Gibbs out, Nacho Monreal will be forced to deputize. He struggled much of last season due to an inability to find anything close to form; hopefully some regular playing time after a full preseason will do him good. Hector Bellerin was on the flight to provide some cover.

The Germans are still not due back into the fold until the trip to Everton on Saturday at the earliest. With that big early season fixture looming on the horizon, one wonders how much Arsene Wenger may rotate his midfielders and forwards for this one. Yaya Sanogo did not make the trip with a hamstring strain of his own (though likely not as long-term as Gibbs's.) That means Olivier Giroud, who came off the bench on Saturday, should start up top. In terms of rotation, there could be starts in the cards for Mathieu Flamini, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and maybe even Joel Campbell.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Koscielny, Chambers, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell, Giroud.

Besiktas Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Hutchinson

I always find it weird when they make players take
promotional photos during their medicals.
Besiktas's only injury concern is to versatile midfielder and Canadian international Atiba Hutchinson. His absence would be a huge blow to the Turkish side's chances, though I can't find confirmation anywhere about what his injury may be.

The Black Eagles' captain is goalkeeper Tolga Zengin who has won 8 caps for the Turkish national team. The back four includes Brazilian Ramon Motta at left back, who made a loan move from Corinthians permanent this summer. Obviously, the Gunners will be well aware of Demba Ba up front; the Turkish club signed Ba from Chelsea for £8 million on July 17. Ba should start up top with Mustafa Pektemek in a 4-4-2.

Former Arsenal academy prospect Oguzhan Ozyakup has been with the Turkish side since 2012, making 42 league appearances in two seasons. Ozyakup made two League Cup appearances for Arsenal in 2011. Arsenal should also be moderately familiar with former Fulham midfielder Kerim Frei; Frei came off the bench for the Cottagers in their 2-1 win over Arsenal on January 2, 2012 and their 1-0 loss to Arsenal on April 20, 2013.

Predicted XI: Zengin, Kurtulus, Gulum, Franco, Ramon Motta, Frei, Kavlak, Uysal, Sahan, Pektemek, Ba

European Form

This referee went on to work the World Cup Final.
Last season in Europe, Arsenal had a record of six wins, one draw, and three losses. The Gunners won both matches against Fenerbahce in their play-off to reach the group stage, where they finished second in the Group of Death on 12 points (Napoli and Borussia Dortmund also finished on 12 points.) Arsenal, for the second straight year, drew Bayern Munich in the Round of 16 and were punished heavily by Wojciech Szczesny's 37th minute red card in the first leg. Bayern were able to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the tie against ten man Arsenal, then held on after a 1-1 draw in Munich. Arsenal finished last year's European campaign with a better record on the road (three wins, one loss, one draw) than at home (three wins, two losses.)

Besiktas have already advanced through one round of this year's Champions League, defeating Dutch side Feyenoord 5-2 on aggregate. On July 30, the Turks took a 2-1 road win to take the lead in the tie before a Demba Ba hat trick on August 6 in Istanbul closed out the tie. Last year, Beskitas qualified for the group stage of the Europa League, defeating Norwegian side Tromsø in the play-off, but were consequently banned from the competition as part of the punishment for the Turkish corruption scandal.

Match Facts

Arsenal's trip to Istanbul last season was the only time
they were forced to wear alternate colored shorts.
This is the first meeting between Arsenal and Besiktas. Arsenal faced Turkish opposition in last year's Champions League play-off round as well, advancing past Fenerbahce 5-0 on aggregate, winning 3-0 in Istanbul and 2-0 at the Emirates. Aaron Ramsey had three of the five Arsenal goals; Kieran Gibbs and Olivier Giroud had the others, the latter from the penalty spot. Arsenal had played Fenerbahce in four other matches prior to that tie, advancing 2-0 on aggregate in the 1979/80 Cup Winners' Cup and picking up four of a possible six points in the 2008 Champions League group stage. Arsenal's only other match against a Turkish side came in the 2000 UEFA Cup Final against Galatasaray, where there was some unpleasantness. In seven matches, Arsenal have never lost a competitive fixture against Turkish opposition.

Beskitas have played a total of 14 matches against English sides, losing half of them, winning four, and drawing three. Most recently, Besiktas faced Stoke City in the 2011 Europa League group stage; Stoke won 2-1 at the Britannia while Besiktas won 3-1 in Istanbul. In the 2009 Champions League group stage, Besiktas won 1-0 at Old Trafford after losing 1-0 to Manchester United at home. In the 2007 Champions League group stage, the Turkish side beat Liverpool 2-1 in Istanbul, but then lost 8-0 at Anfield. The Turkish side has a record of two wins, three draws, and three losses at home against English opposition.

In a friendly earlier this summer, Besiktas defeated Chelsea 1-0 on a late goal from center back Ersan Gulum.

The Referee

"No, I'm totally better looking than you!"
The match officials are from Serbia; the referee is Milorad Mazic. Mazic has taken charge of one Arsenal match in his career; that was last year's 2-0 win over Napoli at the Emirates on Matchday 2. Mazic has never worked a Champions League match involving a Turkish side (this will be his third season working matches in Europe's highest club competition.) English sides have a record of four wins, two draws, and two losses with Mazic in the middle. Besiktas have seen Mazic once, with that match coming in the 2011 Europa League group stage; Besiktas lost the match 1-0 in Ukraine to Dynamo Kiev.

Mazic found himself in the center of controversy twice during the group stage of this summer's World Cup. First, Mazic was in charge of Germany's 4-0 win over Portugal, during which he sent off Pepe for headbutting Thomas Muller. He had already previously awarded Germany a borderline penalty for a foul on Mario Gotze, which generated mixed opinions from pundits. Second, in the Argentina-Iran match, he failed to award Iran a penalty when Pablo Zabaleta collided with Ashkan Dejagah.

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