Arsenal on Monday touched down in Istanbul on Monday for its UEFA Champions League playoff series against Besiktas, which begins Tuesday and ends next Wednesday. In recent years, the playoff has become something of annual series for Arsene Wenger’s Gunners, having finished fourth in the Premier League in six out of the last nine seasons.
“We are desperate to go through, no matter what it costs,” Wenger said Sunday, following his team’s 2-1 opening day Premier League win against Crystal Palace.
Of course, Besiktas, which beat Feyenoord 5-2 in its two-game qualifier series, will feel the same way. A year ago, Arsenal breezed past Fenerbahce, also of Istanbul, 5-0 on aggregate. This year’s test could prove trickier, as Besiktas is coached by wily Croatian tactician Slaven Bilic, and its front-line boasts former Chelsea and Newcastle striker Demba Ba, who already scored a hat trick in Istanbul during Besiktas’ second game against Feyenoord.
Wenger noted that his Gunners will likely be without central defender Laurent Koscielny, while Kieran Gibbs suffered a hamstring injury and will definitely miss the trip to Turkey. However, the Frenchman said German World Cup winners Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolksi and Mesut Ozil could return to the squad after being given an extended vacation following their win in Brazil.