It feels like we have been waiting for this game for some time now. In fact it became the big match once we stuck two past Bayern Munich at the Emirates stadium on that great night.
Life would have been a great deal easier for us had Dinamo Zagreb held on at 1-1 against the Greeks but the late winner changed all that.
Only a few weeks ago I was quietly confident that we would be able to reproduce the kind of performance we put in away at Monaco last season, that result would be fine and dandy today but fast forward to tonight and we are missing three key first team players in Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin. Those injuries are bad enough on their own but when you add the other back up players it makes a very difficult fixture erm, even more difficult I guess.
It was important to get back to winning ways against Sunderland on the weekend but the performance would have been a concern to Arsène ahead of a far more difficult test against Olympiacos.
Post match, Sky Sports had highlighted the huge gaps in our midfield left by both Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey, this was indeed my concern pre match as both of our central midfielders have a tendency to run into attacking areas rather than stay fixed in the heart of our midfield.
Ramsey's running gave him the opportunity to get a goal and an assist to his name but in other matches the dice may fall on the wrong side, especially if Flamini continues to abandon his station. There was talk of Calum Chambers being brought into the side in between Flamini and Ramsey but I just don't see that happening, especially as he has not started in that position since our defeat at Southampton roughly 11 months ago. I think Arsène would rather go with the players he has put his faith in so far, players who have had at least a bit of a feel for the team.
While I do harbour some concerns about our midfield area ahead of the game, it would be wrong not to mention the great qualities that Aaron Ramsey provides this team. We need goals tonight, we need to win the game, possibly by two clear goals and Aaron Ramsey is a constant threat to the opposition, we saw that with his excellent cross to Giroud as well as his late strike to seal the three points. He is an intelligent lad so I expect and hope that he picks his moments to burst into the opposition penalty box. We will have to see a lot of discipline from both our midfielders, in fact from the entire team whenever we do not have the ball. Conceding would not be good so, let's not do that.
So I guess the most difficult call is whether or not to start Theo Walcott from the start after his injury. He looked pretty sharp when he came on at the weekend but away from home in this type of a game will be a different challenge. As I mentioned previously, I found it very interesting to see Theo come on in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain and play on the right with Giroud at centre forward before the Frenchman was eventually substituted. When last can you remember Giroud and Walcott being on the pitch at the same time? Well go on, answer me that?
Yeah, I can't remember either. It hasn't happened for sometime now. This is why I think it could well be used from the off. The issue is that if we start with Theo then we have very little offensively to bring on with 20 minutes to go. Arsène often likes to use his sub option in games like these and has often planned matches around it. Thinking back to Barcelona away in the past oh and at home for that matter.
With the Ox struggling with a bit of form and confidence I suspect he won't start this one, unless of course Arsène sticks to his old habit of trying to push on when opposition legs are tiring. If that is the case then Theo is quite the option.
As I am writing this I am finding myself changing my mind a number of times. Would Arsene really play Walcott and Campbell either side of Giroud? He is pretty hot on balance and has spoken about the dangers of playing three strikers. Maybe if Ramsey was on the opposite flank Walcott then it would be more likely. But too late, I have already done the graphic so deal with it.
Mean Lean's Predicted Line Up:
I hope we do start with that attacking line up. Ramsey, Walcott, Giroud and Özil have plenty of attacking potential to give Olympiacos a real threat. The trouble will be keeping them out at the other end, even if goals should be a secondary thought for them from the first whistle.
So do you want to feel good about our chances tonight do you? Well reading that Olympiacos have won 13 out of 13 in their domestic league won't help. Ok how about this? In the Champions League Bayern Munich stuffed them 3-0 back in September at their gaff. Doesn't really tell us much does it? Looking at their recent home performances in the CL and it's hard to come up with any other conclusion than they are pretty strong at home.
Hopefully though this is a different pressure they will have to deal with. If we can score first (and not let in a goal five minutes later) then they could well panic. As mentioned we have the players to hurt them, shame Alexis isn't in that group but hey-ho.
It's a tough ask no doubt but we'll see how we get on I guess. I don't want to think about the repercussions should we fail, so I will leave all that for post match.
Enjoy the game Gooners and come on the Arsenal.