Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Arsenal's Champions League Trip To Olympiacos Previewed

Arsenal secured their passage through to the last 16 of the Champions League when they beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 a couple of weeks ago. They also assured seeding and a home second leg in their last 16 tie by winning the group too, and it means tonight's game with Olympiacos is relatively meaningless for Arsenal. The game does mean a lot to their Greek opponents though, as they will be looking for a win to secure second spot in the group and a place in the last 16 also.

If the game ends even and Dortmund beat Marseille it will leave the other three teams level on seven points, and then the outcome will become very complicated for all three of them. Olympiacos can still qualify for the next stage of the Europa League even if they lose, as long as Dortmund don't win. It should make for a very interesting night, but thankfully Arsenal need not worry about such trivial things as qualification for the last 16.

Arsene Wenger will obviously pick a very different team from the one which beat Wigan 4-0 on Saturday afternoon to move Arsenal up to fifth in the Premier League. I expect to see a very similar team to the one which lost 1-0 to Manchester City in the Carling Cup last week, and hopefully a few of those players will avail of another chance to impress the manager. Arsenal are still very short of first team defenders due to injuries to three of their full backs, but that shouldn't matter tonight.

Arsenal have the chance to continue their Premier League progress at home to Everton on Saturday afternoon, and that has to be their first priority now. After Liverpool's defeat to Fulham last night Arsenal have the chance to move into the top four by beating Everton. With Spurs traveling to Stoke and Chelsea playing at home to Manchester City there is a real chance of some progress, and it simply has to be taken.

I would imagine that all seven players on the bench on Saturday will start which means Arsenal just have to add four more players to them to make a team strong enough to give Olympiacos a tough game. The only players who started on Saturday to actually make the trip to the game will be Thomas Vermaelen and Andre Santos, but I can't see either of them starting.

Looking at the squad Johan Djourou will have to play in defence and he will probably be accompanied by Sebastien Squillaci, Nico Yennaris and Ignasi Miquel with Lukasz Fabianski in goal of course. If both Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin play in midfield I would expect to see Tomas Rosicky in front of them. That would leave Marouane Chamakh to play up front with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Yossi Benayoun on either side of him.

That wouldn't leave room for Andrey Arshavin or Park Ju-Young in the team though, and both of them would really expect to be playing. I think Arshavin has to be played, but Park will only play if Chamakh doesn't. Chamakh has looked far from the player he was in the first half of last season, and the chances for him to prove he's good enough to cover for Robin van Persie have to be running out.

If Arshavin plays it will probably mean that Frimpong will be on the bench with either Arshavin or Benayoun playing as part of the midfield trio. I have been far from impressed with Arshavin this season, and he looks like a player with very little interest in playing for Arsenal any more. I know his preferred position is just behind a striker, but he knew he wouldn't play there when he joined the club.

Maybe he thinks he should get a chance now that Cesc has gone, and he probably feels he's the best player currently at the club to play in that position. The only way he's going to get his chance is by trying his best when he's in the team, and working his socks off too. If he continues to play with the apparent lack of effort he's showing at the moment I can see Arsenal deciding to sell him very soon.

I'll be happy with a good performance from the team that plays on the night, and any sort of  result other than a defeat would be an excellent result. I always predict an Arsenal win because the thought of anything else is unbearable, and it will be no different this time. I'm predicting a 2-1 win for Arsenal's second string with Chamberlain again being the star player.

I love watching Chamberlain playing, as he has the ability to take players on and beat them, as well as a great eye for goal and an excellent shot too. He is already displaying an intelligence far beyond his years, and the future looks really bright for him and Arsenal too.

Arsenal are the only English team safely through to the last 16 of the Champions League, and it will be enjoyable to see how the other three teams struggle to attempt to qualify. I think City are as good as out, but United and Chelsea are still favourites to get through. When you consider Arsenal's start to the season their qualification as group winners with a game left has been a real achievement.

Their group included the champions of both Germany and Greece, and the runners-up in France, and both Dortmund and Olympiacos are currently second in their domestic tables too. Marseille had a bad start to the season, but they have climbed back up the table much like Arsenal have done. Both United and Chelsea have made hard work of much easier groups, and that's something I have really enjoyed.

Due to unforseen circumstances I wasn't able to do my usual review of the Arsenal game at the weekend, but here's the highlights from it even if it is a little late.

That's it for today.

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See you tomorrow.

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