Arsenal vs Olympiakos: Champions League Preview, Team News and Projected Lineups
Arsenal may be foundering a little bit in the Premier League, but none of their struggles have carried over to the Champions League so far.
To be fair, the sample from which I am drawing is a mere one game against Montpellier, but the Gunners looked like a capable, cohesive unit against the reigning Ligue 1 champions and showed considerable promise for the long season ahead.
In their first home game of the European campaign, Arsenal will face Olympiakos, who return to North London a year after capitulating to the eventual group winners on their way to last place.
The Greek side did beat the Gunners once in their two meetings last season, but that was a meaningless fixture played in Athens after Arsenal had already clinched the top spot in the group. Indeed, the only notable thing to come out of that fixture was Andre Santos' ankle injury, which precipitated the club's fullback crisis over the winter.
This time, the game means quite a bit more. Arsenal could take a firm hold on one of the top two spots in their group ahead of what look to be crucial matches versus Schalke, while Olympiakos must pull off a dramatic upset if they are to have any hope of being this year's APOEL and making it out of the group stage.
While the Gunners took three points from their opener in France against Montpellier, Olympiakos went down to a determined Schalke, and most expect the three-point gap between the two sides to be torn open very quickly.
Knowing the strategic importance of this game, Arsene Wenger is likely to play most of his starters, as he did against Montpellier. However, while he serves the second part of a three-match touchline ban, Steve Bould will be making all the calls during the match.
With Arsenal experiencing their first wave of injuries this season, it will be interesting to see who plays where.
Abou Diaby is definitely out after sustaining yet another injury versus Chelsea, while Mikel Arteta is doubtful with an ankle injury. The Gunners will therefore have to find substitutes for arguably two of the most important and least replaceable members of the squad.
Arteta is the metronome of the side and Arsenal tend to struggle when he is not sitting in front of the defence, playing as a pivote. Diaby's dynamism and freakish combination of physical skills cannot be directly replaced and have accounted for much of Arsenal's success this season.
Olympiakos' losses have been no less devastating. Kevin Mirallas, their top scorer and best forward, transferred to Everton this past summer, leaving them with a relatively toothless attack.
That will be a major difference from the side that faced Arsenal last season, but we already knew about that. Most importantly, Rafik Djebbour, the talisman of the side, will miss out due to injury. Against a superior side, the loss of Djebbour will be a crippling blow to Olympiakos' chances.
Others missing out for the Greeks include captain Vassilis Torossidis and Tassos Papazoglou. Francois Modesto faces a fitness test.
So, with all the tactical adjustments, injuries and players rested, how might each side line up? Here's a prediction:
Arsenal: Vito Mannone; Carl Jenkinson, Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker, Kieran Gibbs; Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla; Lukas Podolski, Gervinho, Olivier Giroud
Olympiakos: Balazs Megyeri; Pablo Contreras, Jose Holabas, Kostas Manolas, Francois Modesto; Giannis Maniadis, Paulo Machado, Djamel Abdoun; David Fuster, Kostas Mitroglou
I'm sure that Olympiakos will put up a spirited fight to essentially keep any dying ember of their Champions League hopes alive. Nevertheless, Arsenal, especially at home, simply have too much quality and experience to lose a game that they really should win.
Perhaps the Gunners' spirits will be somewhat dented after a very disappointing loss to Chelsea last weekend, but I believe that this is a stronger and more mature side than that. It should be three more valuable points for Arsenal to build confidence ahead of this weekend's tie with West Ham.
Score: Arsenal 3-1 Olympiakos
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