Somebody has got to get the goals. Who will it be?
Of course, Arsenal will be happy wherever the goals come from, seeing as we need at least two and, more likely, three or more. Two will only suffice if we can also keep a clean sheet. Better then to go full on attack from the opening kick-off?
Football teams, even if they are attack-minded, are not designed to go for prescribed scorelines. Still, this is exactly what Arsenal will have to do in Athens on Wednesday night. How do we do it and how can we put to rest the ghosts of the reverse fixture, perhaps the lowest of the various low-points Arsenal have suffered in this topsy-turvy season?
I don’t really want to rehash that night. Olympiakos took the lead three times but Arsenal could only equalize twice. Manager Arsene Wenger was heavily criticized for rotating too many players, much as he had in the earlier loss at Dinamo Zagreb. Personally, I think a big factor were the two yellow cards Giroud picked up in that earlier match. Without the big man up top, Arsenal struggled all night to control possession and the match. We were able to match their breaks with runs of our own and create some sustained pressure for portions of the match, but we also lost focus on multiple occasions and gifted the Greeks soft goals. Two were from corner-kicks and the final one was almost directly from the kick-off after the Alexis header which leveled the score at 2-2.
We won’t have Alexis in this one but we will have Giroud, which I believe could make a massive difference. Olympiakos will be content to defend and the big man will have to make his presence felt, shielding the ball and allowing our attacking midfielders chances to work off him. He also will need to be a commanding presence at set-pieces and occupy multiple defenders. Ideally he’ll get a bit of protection from the referee but , in the hostile stadium he shouldn’t count on it. Regardless, it’s a big match for the big fellow, and, as his game goes, I suspect, so will Arsenal’s.
Will Wenger pair Walcott with him from the get go? Theo is just back from injury and though he looked impressive in a twenty minute cameo vs Sunderland on Saturday I think the manager will hold him in reserve. Instead, I believe the wide positions will be a reprise of what we saw in that match: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on one side and Joel Campbell on the other. Campbell, of course, should welcome the chance to return to the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium where he spent the 2013-14 season on loan.
The attackers must take their chances when they come, but the supporting cast must also be on top of their games. Maintaining pressure through possession has been identified by fullback Hector Bellerin as the key to coming home with the win. It won’t be easy with a new central midfield pairing of Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey, in for Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla, both of whom recently went out with long-term knee injuries. That said, Ramsey always has an eye for goal and for timing runs into the box and, the man just ahead of them, Mesut Ozil, has described his form as the best of his career. Additionally, the group had the Sunderland match on Saturday as a dry-run and they were able to produce a scoreline (3-1) which would suit us if it can be repeated. In fact, I expect that exact same team to take the pitch in Athens.
Bench: Ospina, Debuchy, Chambers, Gabriel, Gibbs, Iwobi, Walcott
As always, that’s just my best guess. What do others believe?
It’s a very difficult task but still possible. It’s been a Champions League group stage that has NOT gone well. Still, Arsenal could have accepted their fate much earlier and they should be buoyed by the fight they showed in their home win over Group winner Bayern Munich (in round 3 of the competition) not to mention their London domination of Dinamo Zagreb in the most recent round. It would be an improbable way to get into the round of 16–as we’ve done every year since the tournament moved to the current format– but it might make for the most memorable.
Can we do it? Will we do it?
I think we can and I believe we will. What say you, fine fellow Gooners?
Go on, then…