Fresh off their 3-0 victory over Manchester City to win the Community Shield, and a new English Premier League season just around the corner, Arsenal must also prepare to play Besiktas in Champions League qualification. This will be a strenuous schedule for the Gunners to open the season.
The Gunners open the season at the Emirates against Crystal Palace on August 16. They then travel to Turkey for their August 19 qualifying match against Besiktas. The Gunners return to play Everton at Goodison Park four days later. It does not end there, as Besiktas travels to the Emirates for the second leg of their Champions League qualifier. Again, four days later, there is a trip to Leicester City. Overall, that adds up to five games in the first two weeks of the new season.
What becomes worrisome is that Arsene Wenger is already concerned about his German players’ fitness and motivation. Wenger’s concern is that after their World Cup victory, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker may not have the required stamina to endure such a grueling start.
Wenger is upset at the short time interval between the World Cup and the start of the regular season. While FIFA requires four weeks rest for players participating in the World Cup, it does not necessarily adhere to that rest period when the players return to club play.
When Arsenal travels to play Besiktas in Turkey for the first leg of Champions League qualification, Wenger is not sure what to expect from his world champion German players. His concern is based on his experience when France won the World Cup in 1998. The euphoria of a world championship can diminish the importance of club play.
”When will our German players be ready? I don’t know,” said Wenger.
Besiktas finished third in the Turkish Super League to earn entry into the Champions League qualifying round. Although they finished third in their league, they are in the qualifying round because league champion, Fenerbahce, are banned from the tournament for match-fixing allegations. The Turkish squad will be relying heavily on summer addition Demba Ba. Ba was signed from Chelsea and his hat trick was instrumental in beating Feyenoord in the last round.
Arsenal just signed Thomas Vermaelen from Barcelona and is a 1-5 favorite to win their qualifying round. Besiktas are at 10-3. The Gunners’ impressive Community Shield victory has also elevated them to Premier League favorites at 13-2. Arsenal has not won the title since their unbeaten season in 2003-04. Having now won the FA Cup and the Community Shield, there are high hopes for additional trophies this coming season.
While the Gunners were without their German stars while winning the Community Shield, they will need the talented trio to be at their best if the team expects to overcome this early season stretch of crucial games. There will be little time for preparation, as crucial matches are only a week away.
Of primary importance to Arsenal is qualifying for the Champions League. Beating Besiktas in the qualifying round will require contributions from the entire squad. The Gunners cannot hope to achieve success with anything less than their best players. Ozil, Mertesacker and Podolski must shed the party hats and return fit and ready to contribute.
Commentary by Hans Benes