The first thing you need to know is how to say the name, it’s b’sheiktash, those little ş marks are pronounced ‘sh’. I learned this today watching video of their crazy fans on youtube.
That’s the second thing you need to know, the “J.K.” in their name doesn’t stand for “Just Kidding” there is no kidding around when it comes to their supporters. Check out this video:
It’s a small stadium, just 35,000 seats but the atmosphere is unlike anything many of the Arsenal boys playing have ever seen. Which is the third thing you need to know, Arsenal are playing in a Champions League playoff, a match worth £30m or more, in a hostile stadium with a bit of a bandaged together squad.
I can’t give you a squad preview for them because I can’t remember ever seeing them play. But I don’t have to give you a preview because Michael Cox already wrote an excellent one over on the dot com. Apparently they have Slaven Bilic as their manager, they like to play direct, they like to play two up top, and they have Demba Ba who is played in a second striker role. They also like to play physical and have two midfielders who are, from Cox’s description, basically destroyers. Arsenal have faced this type of team a lot over the years and it’s the kind of tie which gives Arsenal fans a case of leg cramps. In a way, I suppose you could think of this as Arsene’s first test against the way Jose Mourinho is going to play, except that Besiktas doesn’t have excellent quality players like Fabregas and Costa.
If there is a sniffy lining here it has to be that UEFA’s chief referee, Pierluigi Collina, has told referees to crack down on fouls, diving, and dissent saying “we want to have referees taking correct decisions when needed, even if a red card needs to be given in the fifth minute of a match.” And then later when talking to gathered referees he stated:
You must act in incidents where there is unsporting behaviour, if there is simulation by a player, or if there are acts of provocation. You must not accept a situation where you are mobbed by players, or if there is blatant dissent. In addition to protecting players and the game, you must protect yourselves.
I can’t imagine being the referee in this situation. A crucial match, worth millions to the clubs, worth so much pride to the players and the managers, in a stadium full of 35,0000 screaming crazy fans, between two clubs with (apparently) vastly different playing styles. That’s a nightmare situation all by itself, but then to have Collina breathing down your neck, telling you to stamp out dissent, rein in simulation, and give out red cards in the 5th minute must be just about the worst situation ever. This isn’t to (pre)blame the referee, a favorite pastime for some, but rather to say that I worry that this will be a fiery contest in a stadium roiling like a cauldron.
Arsenal’s players won’t have had much experience dealing with this kind of game. Especially not players like Calum Chambers, for whom this will be a huge test of his maturity. Arsenal have not purchased the required players in defense so they have no other option but to play Chambers and Koscielny. The former just 19 and the latter nursing a foot injury. That said, even if the club had bought new players, ideally we would want a back line who all knew each other well, what with 35,000 screaming fans making communication impossible. But that’s just not going to happen and wouldn’t happen if Arsenal have bought 20 center backs, all of decent quality and experience.
Arsenal are certainly the better team on paper, Alexis alone is probably better than any of their players, but quality aside this is going to be a tough game and I think a point or even a 0-0 draw won’t be a bad result because Arsenal should be better able to manhandle them back at home in the return leg. I’m not rooting for a point, I want Arsenal to win and I think with Giroud and Alexis starting up front and Aaron Ramsey bossing the midfield we should have enough quality to silence their fans.
Finally, I want to remind folks that we are doing a new feature called Match Day Photo of the Month. If you were at the game this weekend or really anywhere that Gooners gathered and have some photos you would like to share with your fellow fans, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos can be as imaginative as you like! Jonathan Blaustein, renown photographer, will be selecting the best entries and doing a write up. I’m excited to see what this project brings up from the fans.
The game is on at midday for me and I can’t get away from work so I’ll be recording the game and watching it later and you won’t hear from me here or on twitter until later tonight.
See you then, up the Arse!