With Arsenal looking to atone for Saturday’s 1-2 home defeat to title rivals Chelsea, Greek champions Olympiakos might find themselves up against a wounded beast.
The Gunners’ first loss of the season, in front of their own fans no less, will have hurt them and they’ll no doubt be looking to atone with another win in the Champion’s League.
The North Londoners made it difficult for themselves against Montpellier after going a goal behind to a scrappy goal from set-piece, due to a goalkeeping error from Vito Mannone.
The Italian will provide cover again for the Gunners’ No.1 Wojciech Szczesny on Wednesday night who is still out with an ankle injury that is sees him unlikely to return for two to three weeks.
Arsenal may also have to make do without Mikel Arteta after the Spaniard picked up an ankle injury of his own last weekend.
The loss of the midfielder will be a major blow for the Gunners – Arteta has become their holding and most defensive midfielder whilst also managing to tally the highest passing accuracy percentage on the continent so far this season – above the likes of his compatriots Xavi and Andres Iniesta of Barcelona.
With Abou Diaby also out for three weeks after being substituted early on in the first half against Chelsea, the likely line-up in the central trio is Coquelin-Ramsey-Cazorla with the possibility of Andrey Arshavin or Coquelin featuring in Wenger’s plans.
He former, along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, scored in Arsenal’s Capital One Cup win against Coventry City who they beat 6-1. The Russian may have earned his place on the team sheet through his industry – one would suspect at least from the bench.
With Olivier Giroud having broken his duck in the same fixture, I would suspect the Frenchman will feature. His late miss against Chelsea won’t have helped his confidence and Wenger will likely give him an opportunity to atone up front.
The manager also has selection decisions to make about his back line – the improved youngsters Gibbs and Jenkinson will probably remain but with both Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny both riding the wave of blame for their poor defensive performances last weekend, Per Mertesacker could come in to the side to replace either one.
I’m inclined to think the manager will prefer his captain alongside the German.
Olympiakos have lost their top-scorer this summer – Kevin Mirallas transferred to Everton after tallying the highest goal record of the Greek top-tier.
The club have since seen a poor start in the Champion’s League, sitting in last place, having lost 2-1 in Group B’s first fixture against Schalke. The Greek side has an abysmally poor record against English sides in the competition – they’ve lost on all 10 previous visits, conceding 31 goals and scoring a pitiful 2.
They are, however, on top form domestically; having won all of their opening five matches this season. Their Spanish playmaker David Fuster will provide plenty of threat in the middle of manager Leonardo Jardim’s team.
The Spaniard scored against Arsenal last season in their 2-1 defeat at the Emirates. They are also hopeful of a return from striker Rafik Djebbour who was injured for their last domestic fixture.
The game will likely be won and lost in midfield – I would be inclined to assume the Arsenal trio will dominate the play in possession, meaning Fuster and the Argentine Ibagaza will find themselves chasing shadows for large periods.
Should any combination of Walcott, Gervinho, and Podolski feature on the flanks, fullbacks Maniatis and Holebas will have their work cut out for them.
I’m banking on an Arsenal home win to get them back on track after Saturday. Should they suffer an ‘upset’, more concerns may be raised about their silverware hopes and it would certainly make life in Group B a lot harder for them.
Predicted Arsenal line-up: Mannone - Jenkinson - Mertesacker - Vermaelen - Gibbs - Coquelin - Ramsey - Cazorla - Podolski - Oxlade-Chamberlain - Giroud
Predicted Olympiakos line-up: Carroll - Modesto - Manolas - Contreras - Holebas - Maniatis - Machado - Ibagaza - Fuster - Djebbour - Papazoglou