Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Arsenal v Olympiacos: Champions League Preview

Arsenal finally found their shooting boots on Saturday when they put five goals past Leicester to match their tally of their previous six league games. Those goals couldn't have come at a better time with a Champions League game that has to be won at home to Olympiacos tonight. After losing their first game away to Dinamo Zagreb there is very little room for error left for Arsenal in a group which also includes Bayern Munich.

After tonight's game Arsenal have back to back games at home and then away to Bayern and they have to go into those games with three points in the bag. The defeat to Dinamo has made life difficult in the group, but failure to win tonight would make it almost impossible. Bayern are in fantastic form at the moment and it won't be easy to get anything off them, but Arsenal are of course capable of doing just that.

It would be just like Arsenal to drop points tonight and then go out and take three or four points off Bayern. They can't depend on getting anything from Bayern though and they need to make sure they take maximum points from the three games left against Olympiacos and Dinamo starting with tonight. 

Olympiacos have had a very good start to their domestic campaign and they're on top of the Greek league after winning their first five games. They lost their opening group game 3-0 at home to Bayern, but Arsenal's defeat in Zagreb will have given them real hope of making the knockout stages. They will hope to get through to the final game with a chance of qualifying and know they have a chance at home to Arsenal in that game. 

As for Arsenal they know it would not be in their best interests to have to go to Greece needing a result in the last game and they need to tie things up before that game. The first step in that journey is tonight's game and it's a game they should and have to win. 

In team news it seems both Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta will miss out with slight knocks after Saturday's victory over Leicester. Flamini started that game after his heroics against Spurs in the Capital One Cup, but he went off injured early on to be replaced by Arteta. The team looked a lot more solid with Arteta in the holding role instead of Flamini and maybe the games he's played recently are helping him to regain some form after he missed so much of last season through injury.

It looks like Francis Coquelin could be set for a return to the team as he's been back in training for a few days after recovering from the knock he picked against Chelsea last week. Coquelin has made that defensive midfield spot his own and it will be good to see him back in the team if he's fit to play. If he's not fit to play I can only imagine an axis of Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla will play together, but neither of them have the defensive instincts of Coquelin.

One player who definitely won't be playing is Olivier Giroud after he was sent off in the first half of that defeat in Zagreb. His absence will surely mean Theo Walcott starts again and he seems to be growing in confidence with each game he plays as a striker. The jury may still be out on him, but 12 goals in his last 13 Premier League starts suggest he must be doing something right.

Gabriel Paulista will also be available after sitting out the victory over Leicester as he served his one match ban. It's going to be a close call between him and Per Mertesacker to play alongside Laurent Koscielny at the heart of the defence and it's impossible to know who will get the nod. For me Gabriel is the better choice and I think he will confirm his status as first choice before too long. 

Arsene Wenger made quite a few changes for the game in Zagreb, but I don't expect him to make too many for tonight. I think he has to play what he sees as his strongest team possible to do everything possible to ensure a victory. Arsenal don't play again until Sunday and that should give the players plenty of time to recover.

Of course they did play only three days ago and that game next Sunday is against the current league leaders Manchester United. It's been a long time since Arsenal beat United in the league and a victory on Sunday would be so sweet with them on top of the league, but the points tonight are just as important. I think the five day gap to the United game has to be more than enough for the key players to play in both games.

Speaking of key players it was great to see Alexis Sanchez get his first goals of the season on Saturday. I said in my preview of that game that he looked to have finally found his feet after missing out on a pre season and his hat trick showed that he is back to his best. Not only was he the 100th player to score a hat trick for Arsenal, but apparently he was the first player to score a hat trick in all three of Serie A, La Liga and the Premier League. 

A few times in recent seasons Arsenal have come out in home group games and blown the opposition away with some great attacking football and early goals. It would be great to see them turn that style on tonight and get the win they need to get their chances of qualifying back on track. Any sort of win would do tonight of course, but another attacking performance like Saturday's would be great ahead of the United game.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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