20 August 2013

Arsenal v Fenerbahçe: "like new signings" give us an edge (not new. "new")

Good news: for as debilitating as our loss to Aston Villa was, Fener managed to do even worse in their latest match, collapsing in the last 15 minutes of their match against  Konyaspor, conceding two late goals to lose 3-2. For as much as we lament our loss, we
can balance it a bit with theirs. Perhaps there's further consolation to be found in that idea that they lost despite making a few signings while we lost because (in part) we've made none.

Their newest additions include Emmanuel Emenike, Alper Potuk, and Bruno Alves, and of course new manager Ersun Yanal. Rather than strengthening the squad, though, there seems to have been some tumult with the new additions and leadership, as Fener have lost two matches in a row, to Konyaspor and to Galatasaray. They did beat Salzburg 3-1 (after tying 1-1 away), and their stadium, the Şükrü Saracoğlu, seems like a claustrophobic cauldron that in and of itself might prove more daunting than the players on the pitch. They were good enough to finish second in the Süper Lig and are arguably one of the tougher teams we could have drawn for the play-off. I won't even worry about the status of their appeal. Frankly, if we're looking for officials to bail us out, our short-term memory is as short as our bench. Losing their appeal might not even help all that much, as UEFA hasn't said anything about what would happen next. Would we have to play Salzburg? Beşiktaş? I don't relish the idea of more matches. Let's just win and keep it simple for all involved.

Speaking of winning, let's remember that is this the same squad that showed the grit, determination, and, yes, skill to defeat Bayern at the Allianz Arena, and we'll have the "like a new signing" returns of Sagna, Gibbs, and Monreal should give us greater stability and more options for the back-line, which will be helpful against Yanal's apparent preference for playing a more-attacking style. We as fans are prone to over-reacting to defeats. I think the spirit in the squad after Saturday is closer to rage—the kind that can be channeled into determined, even inspired performance. The last time we lost a Prem match before a Champions League match, a 2-1 loss to Spurs prompted Villas-Boas to suggest we were entering a death-spiral. I think we all remember how that turned out (an 11-game unbeaten streak for those who don't).

It would be too much of me to suggest that we'll go on a similar run starting on Wednesday, but I think that reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated. So much anger has been directed at Arsène Wenger (and rightfully so) that we're neglecting the players themselves. There's more vigor and determination there than we sometimes care to remember, and I believe, to a man, that they're going to come out on Wednesday fired up and ready to take out their frustrations on whoever's in front of them, whether it's Kuyt, Emenike, or anyone else in a Fener kit. I won't say we're going to come away victorious. I will say that we will get an early away-goal and defend it well enough to earn a draw. Then, we can come home and demolish a demoralized team well and proper. Dirk Kuyt has said "I think if they were honest with themselves, Arsenal would not have wanted to face us." After (and maybe even before) his crash with Jonathan de Guzman left him with a concussion, a black eye, and stitches, I believe he has it reversed. I don't think Fener are looking forward to us, angry and with something to prove. Let's get it done.