The games just keep coming and this one feels like a must-win given the points dropped in round one at Dinamo Zagreb. The Greek Champions, 5 times over, in fact, also lost (nil-3) to group favorite Bayern Munich in their opener, so they’ll be looking to spoil our plans. Getting something from this match is critical for them too or they’ll be well pinned to bottom of the group table.
As such, Manager Arsene Wenger has to tread carefully. As much as he’d like to rotate players and rest them ahead of a Sunday showdown with league leaders Manchester United, he probably will need to ask several stalwarts to come back on just two days rest.
Matters are complicated by Olivier Giroud, who picked up two yellows in Zagreb, being suspended for this one. Additionally, both Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta picked up muscle strains in the 5-2 win at Leicester City on Saturday. Francis Coquelin, who hyper-extended his knee at Chelsea the Saturday before, was rested for the Leicester match and the Capital One Cup win at Tottenham, but has been training and may be forced into action. In the pre-match press conference, Wenger also noted that he might choose to rest Aaron Ramsey who, with the exception of Per Mertesacker, is the only Arsenal player looking at his 3rd (full) match in 6 days. My hunch is that Ramsey will start but that Coquelin might relieve him around the hour mark if we’ve staked ourselves to a lead.
How might we get to that point?
It could be tempting to try another start for Joel Campbell. After all, he played with the Greek Champions, on loan, during the 2013-14 season, scoring a memorable Champions League goal for them against Manchester United. Unfortunately he’s yet to score one wearing an Arsenal shirt. Instead, I’m thinking we’ll see a front three of Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
That would allow Aaron Ramsey to shift back into his preferred central position alongside Santi Cazorla and for the two of them to interchange freely with Mesut Ozil, who nominally at least, will be tucked in behind the front line as a #10. He was frustrated at Leicester because he failed to take some good scoring chances, but here’s a video of his entire performance up there, showing exactly his level of mastery in an open match.
Olympiakos will want to do whatever they can to stop Ozil (and the rest) from playing like that and they should be keen to doing what they can to compress our attack. Manager Marco Silva will likely borrow a page from Dinamo’s performance and be happy to concede possession and pile bodies behind the ball hoping to hit us on the break. We’ll need to be alert to that threat, especially if Wenger opts to rotate extensively in his back 4. My hunch is that we’ll see Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs back in at fullback but that we’ll stay with the center back pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker who might enjoy one more match together before we host ManU. David Ospina seems to be our man between the sticks for cup games.
Here then is the predicted line-up:
Bench: Cech, Gabriel, Bellerin, Monreal, Chambers, Coquelin, Campbell
That’s about all I can tell you, and, as always, I’m just guessing at the line-up and bench squad. We’re awfully light on attackers so maybe one of the defenders gives up a bench seat for 19 year old Alex Iwobi, who also suited up for the North London Derby. What would you do for this one, fellow Gooners, if you were wearing the manager’s shoes?
No matter who plays, we need a fully focused performance. Wenger has made the point that these matches are tougher on players who play in the Premier League with its great depth in talent. Olympiakos is dancing through their own league matches, winning all of them thus far this season. Still, if we can embrace the challenge I’m confident our superior quality will show through. Olympiakos has never beaten an English team on their travels in this competition, but there’s always a first time, so we must stay vigilant and not believe just showing up wins us the points.
What say you?
Confident? Worried? Already looking ahead to United’s visit on Sunday?
Have at it; don’t be shy; etc., etc., etc.
Cheers and enjoy the match!