Morning peeps. Happy match day to thee and thine kin. Hopefully it’s an Arsenal-victory flavoured one. A fourth win on the bounced would be rather delicious and tonight provides that opportunity with a home second leg against Olympiakos.
We did half of the job in Greece with the late Lacazette strike and with the Greek’s needing to get at least two goals tonight to progress in normal time, the first thing running through my mind this morning is how we should remain compact and defensively resolute throughout the game this evening.
We have the upper hand because of the slender one-goal advantage – of that there is no doubt – but beware those Greeks bearing gifts; they might have gifted us a goal away last week but that doesn’t mean it’ll be a walkover tonight. In fact the last time we played them it was a disappointing 2-1 defeat that saw us drop points in the Champions League. Our European stock may have fallen a bit and so might theirs, but they’re still not used to losing and they’ll come to the game tonight with a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality so I’m expecting them to try to have a go in the second half.
It means a first goal for us early changes nothing really, because they still have to get two, but if we do score early then we simply must go for that second. Two goals tonight for Arsenal kills the tie I reckon. I’m not saying we’ll get that, or that we’ll concede that (*tries to touch wood on a predominantly plastic Metropolitan Line tube train*), but you’d have to think that Arteta has made the requisite changes in our defensive set up that conceding three goals against Olympiakos is unlikely. Not impossible, for this is Arsenal we’re talking about here, but unlikely.
So it’s important that it’s a professional and decent enough performance to see us progress this evening.
That means I think Arteta goes strong tonight. It was Lacazette beside him for the pre match press conference aside and I suspect he’ll start, as well as Auba and I think he’ll be asking Özil and Pepe to run out too. I think we’ll see more changes for Portsmouth away but for me tonight’s game is most important and so therefore needs the strongest possible side. That means the most senior quartet up front, but it’ll be interesting to see what he goes for in midfield and defence.
Personally I’d like to see Torreira and Xhaka in the middle of the park, because I think Torreira offers more protection, whilst Xhaka is our in form midfielder and his inclusion affords Saka with more ability to drive forward; vital in the away leg as he was the guy who slipped in Laca for his tap in. I think Saka will almost certainly play and Xhaka too, but that other midfield spot is up for grabs. I suspect Guendouzi might be asked to play against Pompey and so it’s a shoot out between Ceballos and Torreira. I’ve already stated a preference for Torreira but if Ceballos starts and continues his good form in the middle of the park, the. So be it, although I must say I was impressed by the number of times he was found making tackles on Sunday against Everton. We’ll just have to wait and see what the Boss goes for.
Defence for me has to be as strong as possible and that should mean a back four (from left to right) of Saka, Luiz, Mustafi and Bellerin. Sokratis did ok at right back but you could tell he wasn’t used to playing there and towards the end he was cramping up against Olympiakos. We don’t really want that again so Hector makes sense for me, with Leno in goal, to complete what would essentially be a strongest possible first XI.
It’ll be intriguing to see how the Greeks approach this but if I was to guess I would say they’d try to ‘Anfield 89’ it, i.e. the first half is about not conceding, getting the home team pulled into a force sense of security, then trying to blitz them later so there’s no time to respond. If the Olympiakos boss is plotting a perfect evening for them that would be it. So for us it will be important to strike early. Two goals for The Arsenal without reply in the first half will turn this into a dead rubber. That’s what we want as fans and so I am hoping that Arsenal don’t mess around and fail to convert the chances they should inevitably get.
Olympiakos will be without Semedo for this one, which will be a blow for them as he’s their top centre half and ‘the big lad’ who looked to be marshalling the back line last week. Whether is replacement – Cisse – can be as effective we will find out tonight.
I’m hoping for a fast start from Arsenal this evening. I want my blood pressure to remain low and the best way of that happening is for Arsenal to get goals early and put my mind at ease.
So, Arsenal, if you could just do that for me that would be great.
Catch you tomorrow for a review of the action. Let’s hope it’s a positive one.