The pressure on Arsenal and Arsene Wenger could not be greater as they head to the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium for their daunting opening leg of their Champions League qualifier with Fenerbahce.
The Gunners have made a horror start to their 2013-14 season. Already under pressure following a summer that has seen no significant transfer business done, the squad has already been beset by a number of injuries that has seen the likes of Thomas Vermaelen, Nacho Monreal and Mikel Arteta already sidelined.
Then on Saturday came what all Arsenal fans must hope is the nadir as their opening-day Premier League encounter saw an Aston Villa side that just about staved off relegation last season collect a 3-1 win from a dispiriting Emirates and leave the Gunners with the challenge of rebuilding confidence in time for a positive result in Turkey on Wednesday evening.
Indeed, since the Villa reverse, manager Arsene Wenger has still failed to add to his squad while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s knee problem sustained in the first-half has since confirmed to be ligament damage that will keep the England midfielder out for up to three months.
Thankfully however, the knocks to Kieran Gibbs, Bacary Sagna, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky have all healed and those boosts, plus the return of Spanish full-back Monreal after his back problem sees Wenger able to play potentially his best XI bar the missing Arteta.
Indeed, the Frenchman’s only choices will be whether to bring Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski into the fray in place of the stricken Oxlade-Chamberlain and one of either Ramsey, Rosicky or Wilshere. The Spaniard has struggled for match fitness after a busy summer with his national side while the German appears to not have the trust of his manager in key away matches.
“We fought very hard last season to be in the top four of the Premier League and that game has a vital importance,” said Wenger.
“It is a consequence of what we tried to achieve last season and therefore, on the back of our defeat against Aston Villa, it’s important as well to bounce back straight away.
“To be part of the top level – that is the most important thing for us. All the rest are the consequences of it. When you are a football player, you want to play at the top level and that’s what the Champions League is about.”
Fenerbahce have no real injury worries and their squad will contain a clutch of players who will be familiar to audiences of the Premier League with Joseph Yobo, Dirk Kuyt, Raul Meireles and Emre Belozoglu, once of Everton, Liverpool, Chelsea and Newcastle respectively all vying for selection.
The Turkish outfit will play the tie under the threat of a two-year ban from European competition for match-fixing, with a hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport due to take place the day after the second-leg of the completion of the tie with Arsenal on the 28 August.
Prediction: Fenerbahce 1-1 Arsenal
Neither are in particular good form after both losing at the weekend but Arsenal have a habit of producing the goods when their backs are most against the wall and a score-draw with an away goal would be a hugely positive result going into the second leg.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Fenerbahce