All my football life, I have always thought (I still do) that all my team needs to do is play better than the opponents and we would win. This was based on the unshakeable belief that the team I support is the best. Of course, this is not always the case, but who cares about the people that think I am an idiot for being blinded by love and loyalty? I am satisfied if I know we did our best and for some reason we lost.
Tonight for the first time in a long time, the foundations of my dogma are shaky. This is because tonight, Arsenal Football Club, the object of my football devotion faces a very daunting trip. A trip to Turkey, in particular Istanbul under normal circumstances is a tough assignment for any football club. The crowd is from another planet. The atmosphere they create, is one of the fiercest anywhere in football; it is as inspiring for their team as it is intimidating to their opponents. They ‘welcome’ you from the airport and camp outside the hotel. They continuously harass and intimidate you until after the game. It is a gimmick that normally succeeds as club after club are beaten before a ball is kicked. Flares were lit outside Arsenal’s hotel yesterday, as the locals continued to dish out their usual warm welcome to visitors.
FLARES OUTSIDE ARSENAL’S HOTEL
Arsenal plays Fernebahce in the 1st leg of a crucial Champions League qualifier. Though there is the threat of a UEFA ban on the host club, it will have no bearing on the way they way play over the two legs, as the ruling is not expected before the 2nd Leg is played in London next week. The source of my fear is not so much as the intimidating atmosphere or the quality of the opponents which I will soon come to, but the shocking state of our playing squad. This is the weakest Arsenal team I have ever known since I started supporting the club in January 1999, when Kanu joined. The squad is threadbare and half of the team is walking wounded patched up, after the 1-3 humiliation on Saturday against Villa at the Emirates. You just don’t know which Arsenal team is going to turn up. On paper we have enough, just enough to get a result. Even a 2 -1 loss is not such a bad proposition in the circumstances; though I feel somewhere we can get a ‘shock’ win. A shock because on the evidence of Saturday’s displays and the weakness of our squad, we should be beaten.
Fenerbahce are a very experienced team of journeymen and a good sprinkling of Turkish talent. Players like Dirk Kyut, Joseph Yobo and Raul Mirales know Arsenal very well and new signing Emmanuel Emenike, will be looking to break the hearts of Nigerian Gooners. They will press and be physical with Arsenal as they attack relentlessly spurred on by the 50,000 fans in the stadium.
Arsene Wenger has an excellent record in qualifying for the Champions League – 15 straight times (without winning, couldn’t resist that). We have always qualified and hopefully this year will make it 16 years in a row. We have players with serious Champions League experience under their belts; in fact our most inexperienced player with the least number of Champions League games is Olivier Giroud. Even Jack Wilshere has experienced the Nou Camp and many a prestigious European ground. If and with this Arsenal, it is a big IF we can keep the first 11 fit, IF they have big performances, IF we are defensively disciplined, IF we do not do anything stupid then we have a very good chance of winning. Some may even say the atmosphere at the Emirates in now so toxic that we play better away from home. This is another reason why we must get a good result today as the 2nd Leg at home for us is not a straight forward affair. The last time we were at Fernebahce we won 5-2, but I don’t think we will be that lucky tonight.
We may be in crises and Wenger may look confused; but we will get a result today. I hope it does not cover the cracks, as we need to buy players very urgently. We are the Arsenal, North London’s best, the biggest football club in London. They are c*nts and we are not. We are the good guys and the good always wins over the bad (most times). #COYG