Season after season in Europe, it seems that Arsenal always reach a point where a certain requirement means elimination or progression.
Score two goals and win. Overturn this deficit. Match the previous result or better. Today’s match is exactly the same.
The only difference is, that this is still in the Group Stage as opposed to the Last 16.
The parameters are clear for the Gunners. Thanks to the awful result in the home tie – a 3-2 reverse which coincidentally was the Greek side’s first ever win on English soil in the Champions League – Arsene Wenger will send his men onto the pitch knowing a win by two clear goals will allow his side into the knockout stage once again. If there isn’t a two goal gap, then Arsenal MUST better the 3-2 scoreline that was the corresponding fixture.
Are we clear?
The good thing for Gooners is that after acquiring just two points from a possible nine in Premier League fixtures in November, Arsenal finally returned to winning ways with a 3-1 win against a spirited Sunderland team in the weekend and since the victory, all the attention and eyes have been on this fixture.
Another positive for Gooners to clasp is that – after what seems like half the squad was struck down with injuries – there have been no new injuries for a week! This means that the side who battled toe-to-toe with Sunderland and subdued their resistance can be called upon once more.
Aaron Ramsey started that game in his preferred central midfield and with the news of Santi Cazorla – the usual incumbent of this slot – being laid off for an expected four months, the Welshman has time and the talent to make this spot his own once more. Alongside him will be the battle-hardened Mathieu Flamini, who will also be deputising, but for Francis Coquelin.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another who has returned recently, and with Joel Campbell, will be the chief tormentors on the flanks. The defence will be comprised of the usual suspects – Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Monreal. With such massive repercussions, there is no need for rotation, especially in defence, where chemistry is so important.
In attack however, there may be a change. Olivier Giroud has been gamely carrying the striking threat all by himself and has done an admirable job, but after starting all the games since Theo Walcott was injured, it may be time for the handsome Gaul to rest his bones on the bench. Walcott came off the bench in the weekend and will be champing at the bit to get more game time under his belt.
Mesut Ozil has been in the form of his Arsenal career and with the potential offered by Theo’s running, if anyone can find the England speedster’s runs in behind, it is Ozil. What may be a thorn in the side is if Olympiacos turn up and pack their defensive lines, which many experts have predicted. If this is the case, then the physical presence of Giroud may be called on sooner rather than later.
The Karaiskakis Stadium in Athens is an intimidating atmosphere and The Gunners can bet on a fiery and roaring crowd intent on giving their team the edge.
Arsenal will have the edge in terms of personnel, but will the absence of Alexis Sanchez be telling for Arsenal? His world class ability is obviously going to be sorely missed, but this injury will be just the layoff his weary body required. He will undoubtedly come back fitter and stronger, and fingers crossed, his return will be in time to aid Arsenal in the knockout fixtures they intend on reaching!
Meanwhile, the curse of the Cup Jersey continues – Arsenal have failed to win whilst clad in the striped dark blue concoction. They will be wearing this jersey for this match reportedly so Gooners will be hoping it can celebrate its first win – and by two clear goals!
So, the mission given to Arsenal players is to go and win in an intimidating atmosphere, against a team who currently hold the qualifying spot they so crave. Not only that, but it must be better than a single goal victory.
The demands are high, but the Gunners have made this mess and must conspire to navigate a way out of it. They are certainly capable, but we must wait until 7:45pm tonight for kick-off.