ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger is looking to Mikael Silvestre to lead an inexperienced defence in the intimidating atmosphere of Fenerbahce’s Sukru Saracoglu stadium tonight.
Injuries have robbed the Gunners of three first-choice players in William Gallas, Kolo Toure and Bacary Sagna.
That means tonight’s set up at the back is likely to include Silvestre, in only his second appearance since a summer move from Manchester United, alongside Emmanuel Eboue, Alex Song and Gael Clichy.
It was the defence which finished the 3-1 victory over Everton at the weekend after Toure went off with a shoulder ligament problem.
Goalkeeper Manuel Almunia will captain the side in the absence of Gallas and Toure but Silvestre, who with 70 Champions League appearances has 15 more than his three defensive colleagues put together, is the man Wenger will look to hold things together.
“I am happy to have him. He is the one who can lead the defence and the team,” said the manager of the 31-year-old Frenchman.
“He has experience. I believe he has played on every single pitch in Europe.
“He is a very professional guy and I am confident he will be the guide of the back four.”
On the injury problems, Wenger said: “We cannot afford to lose any more defenders, that is for sure.
“Johan Djourou has come back from injury but we will start with the defence that finished against Everton.”
Wenger knows all his team, not just the defence, will have to be on top of their game at a ground where the hosts have not been beaten in 15 European matches.
And before their goalless draw with Dynamo Kiev in their last game there, they had won eight in succession.
However, they have begun this season poorly under Spain’s European Championship-winning coach Luis Aragones and are only 10th in the Turkish Super Lig and bottom of Group G in the Champions League with just one point.
But that does not mean Wenger will be underestimating a team which reached the quarter-finals last season and beat Chelsea 2-1 in the home leg before losing at Stamford Bridge.
“Fenerbahce are a team who have not had the best of starts in the league and Champions League but they have quality,” said the Arsenal boss, who is 59 tomorrow.
“They have got class players in many positions, that is why I believe it is a big challenge for us.
“The team has a lot of offensive potential, Daniel Guiza and Semih Senturk; they have a lot of players who are very dangerous going forward and you have to defend well against them.
“They have dropped many points in the Champions League already and that is why it is important for us to start in a very strong way and not give them any confidence.”
This is only the second meeting of the two sides since a European Cup-Winners’ Cup tie in 1979-80 which the Gunners won 2-0 after a goalless first leg in Istanbul.
Wenger will also come face-to-face with Aragones, who as Spain coach in 2004 was fined for his racist remarks to Jose Antonio Reyes about then Arsenal striker Thierry Henry. However, Wenger said he had forgiven his opposite number and moved on.
“I have spoken to him since then. It was an incident on the pitch inside the training session where you can sometimes go overboard,” he said.
“Having spoken to many players everybody came out for him saying he was not a racist so, of course, I have forgiven him.”
Wenger also defended the Spaniard, who is under pressure just three months into his reign. “You need time. He arrived in August and it is only October, that is very short to have an impact. To have an impact you need six months,” said the Frenchman.
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