Olympiakos vs. Arsenal: Preview, Team News and Projected Lineups
The Gunners appeared to start a positive run when they thumped Tottenham Hotspur at home by the score of 5-2. That result led to another victory a few days later against Montpellier, and fans began to believe that a good run was on the horizon.
Alas, that could not have been further from the truth.
After returning to England with the wind at its back, Arsenal squandered a chance to gain more ground on the top four clubs by ploddingly playing Aston Villa to a stalemate.
Supporters became anxious after a thoroughly lackluster display that saw the Gunners create only one meager shot on target and give up the bulk of the chances to an inferior opponent.
That was forgotten about soon enough. A much more significant match against Everton, a legitimate Champions League contender, awaited in midweek.
Arsenal started brightly; in fact, after Theo Walcott's opener in the first minute, the Gunners were on pace to score 90 times.
But the Toffees roared to life. Marouane Fellaini uncorked a beautiful strike from 25 yards out to level the score, and Arsenal was lucky to hang onto a point after getting thoroughly outplayed.
And then, of course, there is the Swansea debacle.
If there was ever a time for Arsenal to really come out swinging and make a statement of intent, it was at home against the Swans. Yet what the supporters got was dull, tedious, labored and unimaginative football from a team that was clearly tired.
Arsene Wenger admitted that fatigue was a significant factor in Arsenal's defeat, but one must ask whose fault it is that the players were gassed before the match even started.
And they clearly were. Swansea practically ran the Gunners off their own pitch with their aggressive, pressing game, and they passed the ball with the precision that Arsenal are known for.
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The manager has at least taken some steps to make sure that the same mistakes are not made twice in one week.
Wenger has left many of the team's most important players in London to rest, while a squad composed mostly of fringe players and youngsters travel to Greece.
Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Santi Cazorla will presumably all be snuggling at London Colney, observing the proceedings via a couch rather than a bench.
Some choices were not Wenger's to make, though. Laurent Koscielny will be out for about three weeks with a thigh problem, Bacary Sagna's foot is not quite healed, Abou Diaby's thigh seems to never want to heal and Andre Santos remains sidelined with an "abdominal strain."
The official list of Arsenal's injuries is available here, via Arsenal.com.
Arsenal's squad is probably so thin because the Gunners cannot really lose, no matter what the result is. They would like a victory and for Schalke to lose or draw against Montpellier, but a spot in the Round of 16 is guaranteed either way.
Arsenal is lucky that it is in this position. Last season, the club took a similarly threadbare squad to Greece and left as 3-1 losers. That match mattered even less, as they had already clinched the top spot in the group and were merely running out the proverbial clock.
Olympiacos could hardy be feeling better at the moment.
Leading the Greek Super League by 10 points, they have not lost a single domestic game and exceeded everyone's expectations in the Champions League.
The Greek side might be eliminated, but they will want to do their fans proud after a European showing that was much improved from last season. And with the pressure completely off, they will have the opportunity to do just that.
Assuming that Olympiacos fields a similar lineup to that which beat Platanias last weekend, Arsenal's opponents could line up as follows:
Roy Carroll; Giannis Maniatis, Konstantinos Manolas, Jose Holebas, Vasilis Torosidis; Francois Modesto, Ariel Ibagaza, Djamel Abdoun, Rafik Djebbour; David Fuster, Konstantinos Mitroglou.
Though it is difficult to predict what combination of youth and experience Arsene Wenger will field, here is one possible starting XI:
Wojciech Szczesny; Carl Jenkinson, Sebastien Squillaci, Thomas Vermaelen, Jernade Meade; Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; Andrey Arshavin, Gervinho, Marouane Chamakh.
That is a lineup which will probably never be assembled again, but if everyone clicks and does their job, it is one that is eminently capable of beating Olympiacos.
Those words seem to be uttered before nearly every Arsenal game nowadays, but perhaps some fresh blood can make them true for once, preventing further embarrassment for the writer who pens them.
The good news for the Gunners this time is that, while a win would really boost the morale of the team and fans, it does not ultimately matter a great deal.
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