It goes without saying but let’s do it anyway, the Gunners only need to grab a goalless draw in tonight’s Arsenal vs Olympiacos fixture to go through to the next round of the Europa League, but this is a problem, especially if the Gunners take their foot off the gas.
Arsenal have always made life difficult for themselves in cup competitions as a rule and should Olympiacos get a goal or two due to some bizarre and slack defending, the Gunners could have their work cut out. It needs a professional and tight performance from Arteta’s men to finish the job and defending their advantage by sitting back isn’t an option.
Rumour has it that Arteta is toying with the idea of finally introducing Gabriel Martinelli and thousands of fans would be keen to see that happen in the Arsenal vs Olympiacos game. Just how likely is that depends on the talks with Aubameyang after his lapse of judgement and whether Arteta feels he’s been completely understood.
If he chooses to keep his captain and striker out of action, it will be seen as a gamble in a second leg that needs to be finished off with at least an early goal to deflate their opponents. I expect Pepe to take the place of Saka who was injured last time out in the NLD and Lacazette to feature in the lead strike role if Auba hasn’t been completely forgiven.
However, here’s food for thought, Martinelli has been training in the lead striker’s position, which is interesting with this fixture in mind. Could Lacazette drop off into a false 10, but that would sideline either ESR or Odegaard. Elsewhere, the choices are far easier, at the back, it’s Luiz and Gabriel for me after shutting down Spurs’ Kane and the superfluous Bale. On the flanks, I’d continue with Cedric and Tierney, how could you not.
Cedric needs more games and gave a decent account of himself at the weekend and only the insistence with rotation will prevent that from happening. Leno is a no-brainer as is Partey and Xhaka, but Elneny must be due a run out in either half as Arteta shuffles the pack.
I’d be tempted to make minimal changes from the side that not only stifled Spurs but outplayed them, especially down the left-hand side. However, we all know Arteta rarely does what we expect and he could spring the odd surprise with Nelson, apparently looking as if he could be ready to enter the fold.
Youssef El Arabi poses the biggest threat up front and he’ll be looking for Arsenal to come up short in defence and he definitely can cause the Gunners a few headaches. I’m not expecting too many issues but the hosts will have to be vigilant and focused for the entire 90 plus of the Arsenal vs Olympiacos tie.
I’m predicting a 2-1 Arsenal win but don’t expect Olympiacos to sit back and hit in the counter, they know what the job requires and will try to rattle Arsenal in the early stages. One goal will make all the difference and if Arteta’s side shake, then their opponents will seize the advantage.
Preferred Side: Leno; Cedric, Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney; Partey, Xhaka, Odegaard; Pepe, Martinelli, Smith Rowe.