It’s just over 48 hours until Arsenal kick-off their Champions League campaign against Fenerbahce although such is the pessimism enveloping the club it wouldn’t be surprising if our latest European adventure ends before it begins.
Or will it?
As has been well-documented Wednesday’s opponents, Fenerbahce, are currently embroiled in controversy with a potential ban from UEFA competitions hanging over them.
Under suspicion of fixing domestic games during the 2011/12 season the Istanbul outfit were, in June, issued with a suspension for the next three UEFA club competitions for which they qualify (including this year’s UCL) by the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body.
Fenerbahce immediately lodged an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) well aware that the subsequent delay would afford them a temporary reprieve from UEFA’s sanctions. Since then they’ve beaten Austrian side Salzburg in the first qualifier on the way to setting up the double-header with Arsenal.
The CAS hearing will now take place over two days this week with a decision due on 28 August – the day after the second-leg against Arsenal. In effect even if Fenerbahce beat the Gunners they will be removed from this season’s competition should CAS rule against them.
If that does happen a space in the group stages of the Champions League (draw on 29 August) will be freed up with recent precedent suggesting Arsenal are the most likely candidates to be reinstated. Of course, Salzburg may well have a say in the matter.
Arseblog News contacted UEFA this afternoon to clarify the matter only to be told that ‘an emergency committee will convene to make a decision on who should replace Fenerbahce if they are found guilty.’
A similar situation has already unfolded in recent days with Metalist Kharkiv removed from the Champions League after their ban from UEFA competitions was upheld by CAS.
The Ukrainian side, who were drawn against Schalke in the qualification draw ten days ago, have now been replaced by PAOK Salonika who they beat in the previous round.
Of course, as if often the case when lawyers get involved with sport, the state of affairs remains complicated. Citing ‘new evidence’ Metalist have appealed the decision of the appeal and will find out tomorrow if CAS can be bothered to listen to them again. It’s all a bit of a mess especially as PAOK by that point will be in Germany getting ready to play Schalke on Wednesday.
So where does that leave Arsenal? Well as far as Arsene Wenger is concerned it’s best to just focus on winning the games.
“You cannot gamble on [the CAS ruling],” he told press on Friday.
“What is important for us is the pride of any football club to win on the pitch. All the rest is less important, so that is what we want to achieve.”
He’s right of course, but the way things have been going this summer it’s nice to think there might be a way to wriggle an invite to Europe’s top table even if the worst happens.
Who knows following a summer in which they’ve cocked up over Luis Suarez’s contract clause Arsenal’s lawyers might just have a chance to redeem themselves. What a strange (and sad) world football inhabits these days …