Sunday, 30 September 2012

Arsenal's Champions League Game With Olympiacos Previewed

Arsenal take on Olympiacos tomorrow night in their second game of their Champions League group. They won their first game 2-1 away to Montpellier two weeks ago despite being far from their best on the night. At the same time Olympiacos were losing 2-1 at home to Germany's Schalke 04.

After the defeat to Premier League leaders Chelsea on Saturday Arsenal need to get back to winning ways immediately. They didn't play well against Chelsea, but it was poor defending from set pieces which let them down on the day. Despite Chelsea looking better in possession they created very little from open play.

The general concensus seems to be that Arsene Wenger got his team selection wrong with the omission of Per Mertesacker. The big German has been Arsenal's best defender so far this season and he should have played against Chelsea. There is no way of knowing if he would have made a difference, but it just doesn't make sense to leave a player in such good form out of the team.

Whether he returns to the team to play against Olympiacos is anybody's guess and I have a feeling he might be on the bench again. To be honest the performances of both Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen in that game were not up to scratch and either player could have no complaints if they were left out against Olympiacos. The chances of Vermaelen not playing are pretty slim though, as he is the club captain.

Arsenal have been drawn in the same group as Olympiacos twice before and the won their home games on each occasion. They did lose both return games in Greece but managed to qualify from their on each occasion. Olympiacos have a reputation for not traveling well in European competition and they will hardly relish a trip to Arsenal.

They have started their domestic campaign very well though with maximum points from their first five games. That's bound to give them some confidence but the home defeat to Schalke leaves them playing catch up in the group. They will feel they need to get something out of this game if they are to have a chance of progressing to the knockout stages.

I expect to see a fairly similar team for Arsenal to the one which lost on Saturday. Of Course I would like to see Mertesacker back in the team and I think Olivier Giroud should play from the start too. With Abou Diaby injured the chances are Aaron Ramsey will get the chance to play in a central midfield role.

Giroud has missed a few good chances when he had played for Arsenal this season. Most of his appearances have been 20 minute cameos though and if he's going to score goals he needs to start games. If Giroud does start it would probably mean Gervinho would drop to the bench despite scoring four goals in his last four games.

I'm not quite sure how Gervinho is Arsenal's current top scorer as he is such an inconsistent player. I have no doubt that his movement causes problems for opposing defences, but he just doesn't offer enough to the team in my opinion. Far too often Arsenal attacks break down when the ball arrives at his feet.

There's another big game for Arsenal next Saturday but Wenger has to play his strongest team possible against Olympiacos. The Premier League trip to West Ham can be worried about when the Olympiacos game is over.

With Diaby's injury Arsenal's midfield options are a little short at the moment but that should hopefully change after the upcoming international break. Diaby should be close to returning at that stage and both Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong made their comebacks in the Arsenal under 21 team yesterday.

It will be another few weeks before either of them will play for the first team, but it's good to see them on the road to recovery. Hopefully Tomas Rosicky won't be too far behind them in his recovery and Bacary Sagna is on the comeback trail too. The competition for places could be very tough quite soon, but that can only benefit the team.

I'm hoping to see Arsenal bounce back against Olympiacos and play with style and verve. A win would leave them in a great position in the group before their back to back games against Schalke.If Arsenal do best Olympiacis those games against Schalke will probably decide which team wins the group.

I can see Arsenal dominating possession but they might have to work hard to achieve a breakthrough. They will also need to be vigilant in defence at set pieces in particular after conceding three goals in two games from set pieces against City and Chelsea. I'm predicting a 2-0 win for Arsenal and I'd really love to see Giroud get among the goals.

Hopefully the likes of Santi Cazorla, Mikael Arteta and Lukas Podolski can have a big influence on the game for Arsenal. The midfield needs to get a strong hold of the game and impose their game on Olympiacos. If they're put under enough pressure they will make mistakes and hopefully Arsenal can capitalise on any errors.

They may not have been great against Chelsea but it was a combination of excellent Peter Cech saves and poor finishing which stopped Arsenal from getting a draw. Vito Mannone didn't have much to do in the Arsenal goal besides picking the ball out of the net twice. Wojciech Szczesny's return from injury can't come quick enough at the moment as Mannone has been found wanting in the last two games.

It's a very important game for the Arsenal players after suffering their first defeat of the season on Saturday. I think the current team has the strength needed to bounce back from their setback and that might set them apart from Arsenal teams of the last few seasons. A win against Olympiacos followed by a win against West Ham would be the perfect way to send the team into yet another international break next week.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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