Monday, 5 December 2011

Olympiacos v Arsenal – Preview

Arsenal Champions League squad:
('A' list, * = 'B'-list)
To date, Szczesny, Mertesacker, Santos, Arteta, Song and van Persie have played in all five of the group games. It seems logical therefore that Wenger will elect to rest all of these key players, with the possible exception of Santos, since he’s the only available left-back in the squad. Aaron Ramsey, Theo and Gervinho have also played in four of the five games and probably won’t travel to Greece.

The latest injury updates from the club website state that Jenkinson, Gibbs and Diaby are all still unavailable, while Wenger has said that Tomáš Rosický ‘has a chance to be available for Olympiacos. He has a thigh problem. He is back in training - not full - but in fitness training.’

That suggests a fairly unfamiliar team-sheet on Tuesday night, and one that will combine youth and experience, whilst giving an opportunity to some of the fringe players in the squad. Indeed Wenger has said as much:
‘First, the priority is to respect the competition and to win our game. That is what I will try to do … I will go with a side who has experience and give the chance as well to some young players … I have done that against Manchester City, and you could see the team was really up for it ... The target is to respect the competition, win our game and finish the group stage unbeaten.’
UEFA’s rather complex Champions League rules make for typically dull reading, with lots of conditions about A-list and B-list squads, so I haven’t bothered to ascertain whether Sebastian Squillaci, for example, will be eligible for this game. If so I’d expect him to play alongside Djourou, with Koscielny and Santos as full-backs; if not then Vermaelen might feature. Starts will also probably be handed to Fabianski, Rosický if fit, Benayoun, Frimpong and/or Coquelin (although Wenger seems to prefer the latter as a general rule), with the Ox, Arshavin, and either Chamakh or Park as an attacking three.

It’s possible that Wenger could play a 4-4-2 as he did against Manchester City and field two strikers. Olympiacos will probably play this way, with Rafik Zoheir Djebbour and Marko Pantelic likely to lead the line. Both scored at the weekend in the domestic win over Panetokilos, leaving Olympiacos one point behind AEK at the top of the Greek Super League.

The Greeks must of course win this game to have any chance of joining the Gunners in the next stage, and while Wenger’s comments on ‘respecting the competition’ and finishing the group stage unbeaten are undoubtedly genuine, he’s hardly likely to take any risks in what is essentially a meaningless match. Given Wenger’s long-standing animosity towards Marseille, as a result of his days at Monaco, he’d probably prefer to see either Olympiacos or Dortmund join us in the Round of 16. The French side are currently best placed in the group but have a tough final fixture away to Dortmund. The Germans still have a very slim chance of qualifying – although they would need both a big victory over Marseille and for Olympiacos to lose against the Gunners to get through. Interesting permutations, then – but fortunately a three-way tussle that Arsenal will not have to worry about.

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What do you think, Gooners?