Fenerbahçe: A Turkish Expert On Why Arsenal Should Be Very Afraid...
Fenerbahçe was buzzing, the streets were awash with yellow and navy blue, just about everybody in the vicinity was sporting club colours. Local bars blared team chants from loudspeakers, local ultra groups organised marches and there was still three-hours till kick-off against Salzburg in the third-qualifying round of the Champions League.
The recent allegations of Fenerbahçe's suspected involvement in the Turkish match fixing scandal which has rocked the country over the past few seasons has resulted in a siege mentality among the Yellow Canary supporters. Many Fenerbahçe fans feel they have been unfairly treated by the footballing authorities and they have responded by forging an even closer solidarity with the club. The level of passion felt towards the club transcends gender and different age groups. Few teams can boast playing in front of a full stadium solely comprised of female fans but in the 2011-12 season the Canaries played in front of 41,000 women and children after adult men were barred from attendance.
UEFA actually suspended Fenerbahçe from this season's Champions League however, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) blocked the ruling and the Canaries are currently awaiting a final decision from CAS on 28 August 2013 over whether they will be able to participate in the group stages of the competition even if they do beat Arsenal over the two-rounds.
The Fenerbahçe faithful are notorious for putting referees as well as the opposition under intense pressure however, on the field Fenerbahçe are far less settled. Ersun Yanal was appointed manager earlier this summer replacing Aykut Kocaman. The appointment had it's fair share of supporters and critics, Yanal enjoyed successful stints at Gençlerbirliği and Ankaragücü before taking over as manager of the Turkish national team in 2004. The 51-year-old manager enjoyed a brief stint as head of Turkey followed by an unsuccessful term at Trabzonspor and was most recently manager of Eskişehirspor. Yanal has a good tactical understanding of the game and his teams are often associated with playing high-tempo, attacking football however, there are concerns over whether he can handle the pressure of a club the size of Fenerbahçe.
The appointment of Yanal creates an interesting conundrum for Arsenal in preparing for the play-off game. Yanal has only coached Fenerbahçe for two competitive games and has not decided yet exactly what system he will use. Fenerbahçe are still a side in transition, after playing for almost a decade using a predominantly 4-2-3-1 setup centred around Alex De Souza; a traditional South American – Enganche – playmaker, Kocaman shifted to a 4-3-3 formation. Traditionally Yanal has preferred to play a 4-3-3 however, opted for a 4-1-4-1 in the away leg fixture against Salzburg. The 4-1-4-1 created series of problems, the most striking being a lack match fit wingers. Yanal switched to a 4-3-3 for the return-leg resulting in a more hard-working, compact midfield and the attacking tridente of Moussa Sow, Pierre Webo and Dirk Kuyt caused Salzburg all sorts of problems with their speed, physicality and off the ball movement.
The Danger Men
Fenerbahçe are far less reliant on any single player compared to the Alex De Souza era and have good squad depth with sufficient cover in most positions however, there are a few players Arsenal will have to keep a close eye on.
Moussa Sow – The Cobra of the Şükrü Saracoğlu, Sow decided to head East despite attracting Premier League interest following winning the Ligue 1 title and golden boot with Lille in the 2010-11 season. The Senegalese international has a knack for scoring wonder goals and was received a nomination in last seasons FIFA Puskás Award for 2013 goal of year.
Sow scored 19 goals and provided 10 assists in 54 appearances last season. The 27-year-old is a fast, powerful striker who reads the game well and is capable of creating something out of nothing. The Senegalese international's goal against Salzburg is typical of what Sow brings to the table - great first touch, technique and lethal finishing. Arsenal will need to be careful of Sow especially if he gets into one on one situations with Per Mertesacker.
Emre Belözoğlu - Emre is one of the most decorated players in Turkish footballing history having played in the Premiership, Serie A, reached third place in the 2002 World Cup, semi-finalist in Euro 2008, won the Turkish Super League four times back-to-back with Galatasaray, the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup in his illustrious career.
Despite reaching the ripe old age of 32 Emre oozes class in midfield and is one of Fenerbahçe's most creative players. The Turkish international is capable of carving through most defences with his impressive passing range. The dynamic midfielder makes his presence felt across the pitch and knows how to rally his team as well as the crowd.
Dirk Kuyt - There were a few concerns when Fenerbahçe signed Kuyt from Liverpool last summer mainly centred around whether he still had the drive in him. Well it wasn't long before Kuyt settled any doubts about his commitment to the cause. It's difficult to think of a player in the league who worked as tirelessly as the Dutch international last season. Kuyt won over the fans with his efforts on the pitch and proved to be a class act off the field. Kuyt picked up the local lingo and even mastered a few local dances which he put to good use in his Turkish Cup final celebrations. Kuyt wracked up an impressive 17 goals and 15 assists in 56 appearances last season. The 33-year-old knows Arsenal well from his days at Liverpool and the Dutch international has a habit of raising the bar in big games.
The Canaries biggest strength is undoubtedly going forwards, Fenerbahçe have several players capable of creating something out of nothing. Sow makes darting forward and diagonal runs, Webo is a menace from aerial balls, Kuyt - Mr Duracell - never tires and always puts in 100 percent. Then there is the likes of Raul Meireles who has a tendency of scoring wonder goals in big games with his dangerous long-shot, Emre has a passing range capable of causing just about any defence problems. On the bench Fenerbahçe have two of the brightest midfield talents in Turkish football, 19-year-old Salih Ucan and 22-year-old Alper Potuk. With the addition of Emmanuel Emenike who is likely to be available in time for the Arsenal game Fenerbahçe will possess a wide array of attacking options combing explosive speed, technical ability and lethal finishing.
Fenerbahçe's main vulnerability is in defense, Yanal will be praying right-back Gökhan Gönül recovers from his injury as his absence will be a huge miss for the Canaries. Gonul did just about everything a manager could hope for in a fullback last season. The Turkish international right-back bombed up and down the pitch contributing to attacking moves and showing bravery in defensive areas. However, the Canaries lack a decent replacement, Mehmet Topuz isn't a right-back and it showed against Salzburg as the Austrian side exploited his side, Topuz didn't know when to push up, when to drop back, struggled positionally and against a side like Arsenal boasting the likes of Walcott he would be in for a torrid time. The current defensive line hasn't had time to gel yet, centre-back Bruno Alves and left-back Michal Kadlec arrived this summer.
The Gunners came out on top over when these two sides last met in the 2008-09 Champions League. Arsenal defeated Fenerbahçe 5-2 in Istanbul before drawing their home fixture 0-0. Wenger will be hoping history repeats itself however, the Canaries are a much stronger side than the one the Premier League side last face and a case can be made for Arsenal not having made any major improvements. Fenerbahçe will have gained confidence from Galatasaray's victory over Arsenal in the 2013 Emirates Cup and with the 12th man behind them the Canaries could spring an upset next week.