Olyimpiakos vs Arsenal | Wednesday 9 December | Karaiskakis Stadium | 21:45
Arsenal’s proud record of consecutive knock-out appearances in the Champions League under Monsieur Wenger comes under intense scrutiny in this decisive encounter with Marco Silva’s surprising Olympiakos. Arsenal’s injury travails have not helped to alleviate these concerns, with both Sanchez and Cazorla now set to be side-lined for some time. Silva’s side are in devastating form, having won twelve consecutive games in Greece’s Super League. This should be a fascinating game of cat and mouse, with both sides clearly relishing the counterattack and the Londoners needing to overcome a two goal deficit.
To Win Match
The home team are largely responsible for Arsenal’s precarious situation, with that 3-2 victory at the Emirates exploding the parameters of this group. Not only are Silva’s side in excellent form, they have no real seismic injury concerns to fret themselves over. Esteban Cambiasso is back in the fray for a starting berth and one would think that his experience would be perfectly suited to the magnitude of this occasion. Having won the Champions League with Inter in 2009, Cambiasso will be the perfect man to help guide this relatively young Olympiakos team home. Kostas Fortunis has been in excellent form in the midfield and will look to capitalize on the combined absence of Cocqulin and Arteta.
Brown Ideye has been in magnificent goal-scoring for the Greek outfit, and one would think that his physicality will be ideal in targeting Arsenal’s often fragile defence. Former Fulham winger Kasami has also found a new lease of life at the Greek side. Few will forget his goal of the season volley that really announced his arrival to the broader footballing consciousness. The one area where the Greek side will need to be concerned about is the pace in the wide areas. Salino and Elaldelaqui will need to be tenacious to keep the likes of Walcott and Ramsey at bay.
You have to feel for Wenger’s side on some level. It could be argued that their three most important players are unavailable for this match. Cazorla and Sanchez have clearly been hugely influential in Arsenal’s creativity this season, but the man they may really miss this week is defensive midfielder Cocqulin. Not since Gilberto Silva have Arsenal really possessed a destructive midfielder of his quality. That is further exacerbated by the continued absence of Jack Wilshire and Mikel Arteta. Chamberlain will probably play in a deeper role alongside the aging Flamini.
Walcott may not be a hundred and ten percent fit, but with their injury issues I can’t see any real alternative that Wenger has. He has to pick a side with experience in these tense European games of chicken. Ramsey will no doubt play in the central creative pocket, a risk when you consider his somewhat mercurial nature. I may be inclined to play Ozil in the ten role and allow Ramsey to drift in off the right, but that option also has its dangers with Ozil’s tendency to drift out of games in zombie-like fashion. Giroud’s performance is going to be vital. He has been in really good goal-scoring form, but even the most ardent Francophile Gunner will admit that he tends to need a fair share of chances to get his goals.
Arsenal to win, Olympiakos to progress. I sense a 2-1 or 3-2 victory for the Gunners. They have the greater depth of talent, but the task of alternating between dire need and relying on their swift counterattacks should create some opportunities for a fast developing Olympiakos side.