Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Arsenal's Trip To Olympiacos Previewed

Arsenal's Champions League group comes to a conclusion tonight and it's crunch time for them. It's been a pretty dismal campaign so far with three defeats in their five games, but they can put that right with the right result in Greece. It's certainly going to be far from easy, but it's something the players are capable of and something they have to go for.

The spate of injuries for the last month or so has robbed Arsene Wenger of Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin among others and those three would have been certain starters tonight. The combination of Coquelin and Cazorla was the axis Arsenal built everything on with Coquelin doing so much hard work and Cazorla keeping the engine of the team ticking.

In their absence those tasks will fall to Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey and their performances will have a huge say in the outcome of the game. Flamini doesn't possess the defensive discipline of Coquelin or his youth either and he will have to be on his game from first minute to last to stop the threat of Olympiacos counter attacking. He seems to have a desire to get involved in the opposition penalty area, but Arsenal need him to sit and hold for every minute he is on the pitch tonight.

Ramsey is only just back from injury himself, but he is getting a chance to play in his favoured position and he seems determined to show that he deserves the role on a permanent basis. He got a goal and an assist in the win over Sunderland on Saturday and he probably should have had two more goals. He plays a lot further forward than Cazorla in that role and his runs into the box could be just what Arsenal need to break Olympiacos down. Of course those runs also leave Arsenal more vulnerable to the break and that's why it has to be impressed on Flamini to keep his attacking urges under control. 

It was good to see Theo Walcott make his comeback on Saturday and hopefully it means he will be available from the start tonight. His pace offers Arsenal something in attack which Olivier Giroud doesn't have although I think Walcott will be deployed on the right if he does start. Giroud has done so well from the set piece deliveries of Mesut Ozil that I think it's an option that has to be used from the start. I have no doubt Olympiacos will do all they can to prevent Arsenal's progress on the pitch and Ozil could find himself delivering quite a few set pieces in the 90 minutes. 

The form of that man Ozil is a real positive for the team and his contributions are almost single handedly making the difference for Arsenal at the moment. Along with Alexis he's one of the two really special players in the team and in the absence of Alexis even more is expected of Ozil. While Ozil is the master of making chances Alexis can make things happen all on his own and he will be sorely missed. His absence has made the return of Walcott even more important as he can score goals and worry any defence with his pace.

Once he's fit I expect Walcott to start and it's just a matter of whether the boss picks Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Joel Campbell to play on the opposite side to him. I know Chamberlain offers far more at his best, but he's only just back from injury too and I have a feeling Campbell might get the nod. I would prefer to see Chamberlain play because he can make a real difference when he turns it on and like Walcott he can really worry the Olympiacos defence.

The chances are Walcott will play on the right, but I wouldn't mind seeing him on the left as it makes it easier for him to score with his right foot as he comes in from the left. A few of the goals he has got from that side are reminiscent of Thierry Henry and we could do with some of that inspiration tonight. Henry had some great away days in the Champions League in his time at Arsenal and it would be great to see somebody follow in his illustrious footsteps.

Arsenal have to win tonight to go through and a 2-0 win is the minimum requirement too. However, once they win and score three goals it doesn't matter what the winning margin is as Arsenal will go through. I can't see Arsenal keeping a clean sheet in a game where they have to attack so they will probably have to manage those three goals if they are going to progress.

When Olympiacos won 3-2 at the Emirates they were helped in no small part by an awful Arsenal performance as well as an horrendous error from David Ospina. Petr Cech will be between the sticks tonight and that has to give the whole team more belief in their chances of getting a result. He has already proved his worth since joining from Chelsea in the summer and he could still prove to be the most important signing for any Premier League team last summer.

Olympiacos have had a very good season so far and have won all 12 of their domestic league games. Their only defeats so far have come home and away to Bayern Munich and they won't be short of confidence. They showed in the game at the Emirates that they can be deadly on the break and Arsenal have to be aware of that.

Arsenal haven't played well for a while now and they will have to up their game an awful lot to get the result they need tonight. They are capable of it though and I just hope they can give it a real go. If they can go one up at any stage in the game it will put the cat among the pigeons and just maybe give them the edge they need.

We've been through all the close calls and glorious second leg results that just weren't quite good enough in recent seasons. Maybe it's time for the players to actually come through this time and get the result to put them through to the last 16. If they can do so who knows where they can go, but looking at some of the team's through already the draw could be very difficult. I'll be happy to see their name go into that draw though and I have a sneaky feeling they might just do it.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.


  1. You have said the words "tomorrow night" 7 times..Yet the vast majority of people will read your blog on the day of the match. So why tweet your blog at 55 minutes to midnight? It would sound better also when I read in the morning about "tonights match".

    1. Fair point, I've edited it now, thanks.