Arsenal vs Olympiacos PreviewPosted: October 3, 2012
Following the highly disappointing result and performance against Chelsea on Saturday, Arsenal will be looking to reclaim their prior good form with a win versus Greek champions Olympicos. This will be the third time these two teams have met in the Champions League group stages in the last four years, with the two sides sharing two wins each, both in their respective home grounds.
Wojciech Szczesny remains out for the next three weeks (just as he would two weeks ago; one to look out for) and Lukasz Fabianski is also officially injured, although this did not stop him being called up for Poland at the end of August – an odd one by all accounts – so Vito Mannone will continue to play, much to the delight of friends and family of Mannone, but few others. He has not looked anything close to dependable in this brief stint but short of giving Damián Martinez a second first team start, there are no alternatives.
Three of the four spots in the back line are assured for Carl Jenkinson, Thomas Vermaelen and Kieran Gibbs, but there is an open space at centre back. The contest between Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker is explored further in this and given the Frenchman’s relatively poor showings thus far, my reckoning is that Mertesacker will regain his place.
The inevitable injury to Abou Diaby created an opening for one of Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and it was anyone’s guess as to who would take his place. The news that Mikel Arteta is now a doubt after missing training on Tuesday morning means that Coquelin is now almost a certified starter. Arteta’s importance to Arsenal is likely to dictate that any fears over his fitness will see him rested, given that they should have enough to overcome Olympiacos with Coquelin in his place. Assuming Arteta will not play, my guess is that Ramsey will start; if Arteta does, I expect him to play alongside Coquelin.
Santi Cazorla is almost certain to start in the ‘number 10’ role. Despite his overplayed struggles my belief is that Olivier Giroud should and will start up front and Lukas Podolski on the left, and there is another chance for someone to impress on the right hand side. It appears that Walcott will not be started again until he signs a new deal, so the options are the infuriatingly inconsistent Gervinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain and perhaps Serge Gnabry, who it is said will be included in the 18-man squad. The latter is an outsider but not impossible – Chamberlain was given his first Arsenal start against Olympiacos a year ago at a similar age.
My prediction is a Chamberlain start. He has had a tendency to be somewhat absent in away games, meaning he probably will not start at Upton Park and Gervinho will. So a likely line-up of Mannone; Jenkinson-Mertesacker-Vermaelen-Gibbs; Coquelin-Ramsey-Cazorla; Chamberlain-Giroud-Podolski. Although now I’ve said that expect Arsène Wenger to start Koscielny, Squillaci, Gervinho and Chamakh.
An Arsenal side in disarray managed to (just) see off the Greeks at the Emirates last season and the home side will be fielding a far stronger side and Olympiacos, seemingly, a very different one, too; only five of the team who started at the Emirates last year were in the eleven for their 2-1 loss at Schalke in the last round of games. While for Arsenal, only Mertesacker, Chamberlain and Arteta are in contention for a start tomorrow, of their starters in this fixture last year.
Arsenal should be able to see off the challenge but they do have a habit of making things needlessly difficult for themselves. The absence of Arteta could be damaging but realistically, any problems will probably be of their own making. With the talent they have and their being at home, it should be relatively easy. But when is it ever with the Arsenal?