We started this serie yesterday. In the first part of this serie, we had a look at Pacos de Ferreira (Portugal), Metalist Kharkiv (Ukraine) and PSV Eindhoven (Holland). All 3 are our likely opponents in the 4th qualifying round of the Uefa champions league. In today’s article, we will be looking at the remaining 2 likely opponents. These two teams could make life extremely tough for The Gunners and will have to be on the top of their game in order to gain a result.
2. Real Sociedad (Spain)
The San Sebastian outfit managed to scrape into fourth spot in La Liga with a 1-0 victory over Deportivo, as well as depending on Valencia slipping up to Sevilla 4-3. Sociedad suprised the majority this season after finishing 12th the previous season. The Basque side play some extravagant football at times and thoughroughly deserve a chance to show-off their style off on the biggest stage.
Strengths: What do Real Sociedad and Manchester United have in common? They love to come from behind and steal victories from the grasp of their opponents of course! Sociedad have come from behind twelve times this year in order to pluck a result out of thin air, with 6 wins and 6 draws all coming from losing positions. This uncanny streak of determination proves to all teams that the game is never over until the referees whistle has sounded.
Weaknesses: Haven’t featured in the Champions League for the last ten seasons is a negative. As well as the fact that their manager, Phillipe Montanier, has agreed to take over at Stade Rennais in Ligue 1 for the next season. This will affect the way Sociedad play as he was a major influence on the way the team was structured and was key in mentoring the young San Sebastian Stars. It will be tough for them to gel with the new manager by the time the play-offs commence.
Star Man: Former Gunner Carlos Vela. As the leading goal scorer for Sociedad with 16 goals, he is one who has improved ten-fold since permanently joining the San Sebastian outfit. Expect him to try and make a statement to Arsene Wenger if Arsenal happen to be drawn against his new side.
1. Fenerbahce (Turkey)
Extremely successful team based in Istanbul, Fenerbahce have added another trophy to their case, after recently adding the Turkish Cup to their repertoir. Expect the ‘Yellow Canaries’ to pose a serious threat to any team they come up against as they boast a strong squad and winning mentality. Reached the Europa League semi final before narrowly missing out on the chance to face Chelsea in the final, going down to Benfica 3-2 on aggregate.
Strengths: Arguably the strongest possible team Arsenal could face, with a squad of experienced players such as Dirk Kuyt, Moussa Sow, Raul Meireles, Joseph Yobo and Milos Krasic, Fenerbahce have the capability to remain composed throughout the 90 minutes. They are a well organised outfit and craft their goals through smart positioning and the ability to create space for their forwards to have free reign on goal. Defence is also key and with experienced national goalkeeper, Volkan Demirel between the sticks, the Istanbul side only managed to concede 39 goals this season.
Weaknesses: Fenerbahce have recently encountered the same problem as Real Sociedad with the Turkish club announcing the departure of current manager, Aykut Kocaman, after three years in charge. ‘Fener’ have added that they will search abroad for a new manager. This is always a problem as most of the players are Turkish and the language is difficult to pick up. Communication between manager and players could be a real stumbling block on the way to Fenerbahce progressing through to the main stages of the Champions League.
Star Men: I’ve gone with two players as they’re both vital to Feberbahce. Raul Meireles is a seasoned campaigner and featured heavily with Chelsea on their run to Champions League glory. A player whose favoured position is in the centre of midfield, expect the tattooed general to dictate play and to be controlling the flow of play. The second player is forward Moussa Sow. 15 goals this season and a tremendous reputation to pop up from almost nowhere and put them in the back of the onion bag. Beware the deadly finishing of Senegalese International.
All five teams could prove difficult opposition for Arsenal. If they want to prove themselves as serious contenders, then convincing wins will be needed over both legs of the play-off.
Bear in mind: If Arsenal qualify for the group stages they will be seeded in ‘Pot 1’ amongst heavy hitters: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United, Porto and Benfica. All of which cannot be drawn in the same group. This will again aid Arsenal in progressing through the group stages for an impressive 14th year in a row.