09 August 2013

Will we really face Fenerbahçe with only 18 players?

We learned this morning that we will face Turkish club Fenerbahçe with the first leg on 21 August in London [correction: Istanbul. I misread the info at the team's site] and the second on 27 August in London. Despite the fears that Fener is one of the toughest clubs we could have drawn, not least because of the distance we have to travel and the lingering doubts left behind by losing to the last Turkish team we faced, this is a team that we should be able to dispatch. Yes, the Şükrü Saraçoğlu Stadium can be a claustrophobic cauldron of intensity, but hopefully we can go ahead early instead of letting pressure build.

At the risk of overlooking what is, of course, a tricky match (anyone who can qualify for the Champions League has some mettle), my worries lie further down the road. Let's set aside Fener's legal troubles due to match-fixing, as their appeal will not be ruled on until 28 August, the day after the second leg. Simply put, if we focus on playing our game, the status of the appeal won't matter.

What does matter, however, is a different deadline: 12 August. This is a date that UEFA has set for registered players to appear on a team's roster  for the play-off round, the one in which we face Fener (click here and scroll down to section 18.08 for more detail). In summary, a team must have 25 players on List A, including two goalkeepers, eight "'locally trained players', and no more than four 'association trained players'". I believe we're settled on that account. More troublesome to me than those numbers is this one: 18. That is the number of first-team members we currently have available to face Fener without Monreal, Vermaelen, and Diaby (all injured) and excluding on-loan or on-their-way-out players such as Frimpong, Bendtner, Miyaichi, Chamakh, Park, and Bendtner. As it currently stands, unless there is some shifty paperwork going on, this is our roster as we face Fener.

Of course, we've probably submitted a roster that includes a number of call-ups from the Academy to bolster the squad, but I don't see the likes of Miquel, Akpom, or Bellerin thriving in Istanbul's tempestuous stadium where Fener's 2-1 win over Gala in May was marred by on-field scuffles between players, monkey-chants directed at Drogba, Webo, and Eboué, and the stabbing death of a Fener fan. In other words, hardly a walk in the park. It's therefore vital that we make a strong showing in the first leg in order to render the second one less significant, both to ensure advancement and to keep ourselves fresh for the North London derby on 31 August.

Back to UEFA's rules on rosters, a team can "may register a maximum of one new eligible player on List A after the above-mentioned deadlines, provided the quota of locally trained players is respected. Such registration must be completed by 24.00 CET on the day before the relevant first-leg match". In other words, after 12 August, we can only add one new signing to our roster, no matter how many new signings there have been. On paper, our starting XI is far-superior to that of Fener, but all it would take is an injury to Gibbs or Koscielny or an early goal for Fener in that first leg to royally botch things. We might then face the prospect of a white-knuckle affair in Istanbul followed by an similarly intense derby four days later.

Then again, maybe I have no idea what I'm talking about (always a distinct possibility). Maybe Arsène has already completed several signings and submitted the requisite paperwork with UEFA, and we're just being made to sit and chew our nails as penance for doubting and criticizing him. Yeah, that's the ticket. For what it's worth, I'm still a firm supporter of this manager, as I attested to yesterday. Let's hope there's some kind of rabbit in that magic hat of his and that we get to see it sooner rather than later.

Thanks for visiting. We have Man City coming up on Saturday. Some are braying for an embarrassing loss to shock Arsène into some panicked signings, which makes about as much sense as losing on purpose to prove a point. It's a friendly. Don't read a whole lot into it either way (unless we win, which clearly means we'll go undefeated again. No other interpretation is remotely possible). Right. I should have a match preview available later on.

For now, at risk of sounding like a broken record (ask someone with gray hair and a walker to explain that reference), go vote in the 2012-13 YAMA Awards for "Best of..." Arsenal bloggers and writers. Woolwich 1886 is humbled to be nominated as a "Best New Arsenal Blog". Thanks, as always for your visit.