The best way to get over a big disappointment is to follow it up with an uplifting performance that reinforces the quality of the squad and puts three points on the table. But this can be a double-edged squad as successive disappointments can have a multiplier effect on morale of the players while testing the faith of the supporters. In that sense the game against Olympiacos has taken greater significance than it might have had the performances in the admittedly demanding last couple of league games been stronger.
The two teams are well known to each other having met in the group phase twice over the last three seasons. In each of the four games the home side won but Arsenal had to do it the hard way last season with Arsene Wenger banned from the touchline and some key players missing through injury or given a breather.
The patterns of play in this game could be very similar to the last one. It will be a midfield battle where the Arsenal will have to earn the right to play their preferred style of football. Diaby will be a big miss, literally and otherwise, but Arsenal will really have a fight on their hands if Arteta has to miss out. I have a feeling Wenger will put the Spaniard in the starting eleven if there is any chance he can play. Leonardo Jardim showed respect towards Arsenal and said his team will try to be “very compact” but that should not be seen as a sign of weakness. Inability to handle the pressure and dominate the midfield will give the Greeks a real sniff.
Olympiacos have a terrible record in England but those who saw their performance at the Emirates last season, you can rekindle memories by watching the highlights again, will know it’d be naive of Arsenal to take them for granted. They’re champions in their league and have the habit of holding on to the ball, creating combinations plays and counter-attacking moves, applying pressure on opponents, retaining their shape, and fighting till the end without significant lapses in concentration. Unlike Southampton or Coventry, Wednesday’s visitors will not roll over. The Gunners might benefit from the fact that the visitors themselves are missing a few players through injury.
Jardim will have noted that thus far this season Arsenal haven’t really troubled deep-lying defences as consistently and decisively as they need to so his side will hope to frustrate the Gunners by making it hard to pass through their lines. At the other end, it’s tough to miss the fact that Arsenal have been insecure on set-pieces. The visitors could bide their time if Wenger’s side dominate possession as they do have a history of troubling the Gunners through cleverly worked free-kicks and corners. Interestingly, last season Arsenal did not look comfortable while defending set-plays despite Mertesacker’s presence in defence.
Broadly speaking there won’t be many surprises in this game. Whatever side Wenger selects will try to go out and play the only way they know. Olympiacos will start with their first line of defence around the centre line but will push up or drop back depending on the speed at which the Gunners are able to move the ball. This will essentially determine the territorial aspect of the game i.e. will the game be fought in the middle third with a constant threat against the Arsenal goal or will it be played higher up in the Olympiacos half with the attacking opportunities limited to counters and set-plays.
Arsene’s selection will obviously have an impact. Part of me wants to see how a midfield without Arteta and Diaby copes with such opponents but the other part is worried this isn’t the right time for such a test. Hopefully, the Spaniard will play because he is fit and not just because he is needed. Coquelin could come in to play behind Arteta who could then move back to his last season’s role of linking the midfield with the attack while providing defensive support when needed.
Such a system would be a good test for the youngster who has to prove he is ready to step up and can handle the pressure of such a game. That’d mean showing for the ball as often as Arteta does in that role and providing reliable distribution even when the opponents are biting at his heels. Certain mistakes and weaknesses are excused when a player is seen as a youngster learning the ropes but when he starts demanding greater responsibility and trust from the manager he also has to put in displays that back up his claims when the chance arises.
In defence, Mertesacker will probably come straight back in at the expense of Koscielny.
Up front Wenger has the chance to mix things up. I’d like to see Giroud given another start as his movement and presence can be a factor in troubling the Greek defence. If the Frenchman is picked I’d also like to see Gervinho moved to the right. Other players will probably retain their places.
Mannone – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Arteta, Cazorla, Coquelin – Gervinho, Giroud, Podolski.
There’s a school of thought that says Vermaelen or one of the other defenders could be moved into midfield if the experienced players are missing. This would add greater physical and defensive qualities to the starting line-up but it’s not easy for centre-backs to move into midfield unless they’ve trained there and spent time understanding the role. We saw these players struggle when played at full-back positions over a long period of time so the manager’s reluctance in picking them for crucial midfield roles is understandable.
Last year Wenger rested Van Persie against Olympiacos. It seems likely that he’d be more inclined to rotate players in such home games as it’s much harder to get results in the away games with younger players.
With Diaby out Arsene might not want to rotate players in midfield but he could give Podolski or Gervinho a rest. As such there are many possible combinations from the available players that could put up a strong performance. Hopefully the chosen side will have the right balance and won’t be in a charitable mood.Follow @goonerdesi