Arsenal in confident mood for Turkish test against Besiktas
Arsene Wenger says his team are determined to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League after a positive start to the new season
After a positive start to the new season domestically, Arsenal head to Istanbul in optimistic mood ahead of Tuesday night's Champions League play-off first leg against Besiktas.
The Gunners followed up a convincing victory against Manchester City in the Community Shield with a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday in their opening Premier League game, in which Aaron Ramsey netted a late winner.
Now they are looking to secure a place in the lucrative group stage of Europe's elite club competition for a 17th consecutive campaign.
Millions of euros are at stake for the clubs involved in this week's 10 matches thanks to the huge appearance fees, performance bonuses and television money handed out by Uefa to group-stage qualifiers.
Last season, Uefa awarded each of the 32 teams €8.6 million (HK$89 million) just for taking part in the group stage, with more thrown in for wins and draws.
Wenger could do without the fitness concerns that are hanging over several players, including Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny and Jack Wilshere.
"We want to be in the Champions League group stage. Besiktas had a convincing result against Feyenoord [winning 5-2 on aggregate in the third qualifying round], and so for us we have the luck to play the first game away," said Wenger, who has floated the idea of calling on German World Cup-winning trio Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski for the first time this season.
Meanwhile, Ramsey admitted Arsenal will need to improve on their performance against Palace, although he lauded the contribution of Wenger's summer recruits in that match.
"I think they have started really well. We were really solid at the back with [Mathieu] Debuchy and [Calum] Chambers playing as if they'd been there for the last three years," he said.
Arsenal would settle for a repeat of 12 months ago, when they beat another Istanbul side, Fenerbahce, 3-0 on the Asian side of the Bosphorus on the way to a 5-0 aggregate triumph.
With Besiktas in the process of rebuilding their stadium across the river, today's match will be played at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, where Liverpool beat AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final.
Slaven Bilic's side, who finished third in the Turkish Super League last season, do not begin their domestic campaign until later this month, although they were convincing winners against Feyenoord in the third qualifying round, with former Chelsea striker Demba Ba scoring a hat-trick in the second leg.
"Arsenal have some of the best players in the world but we have seen on many occasions that talent doesn't necessarily mean a team will win," said the Croatian Bilic, who played in England for West Ham United and Everton.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters