Morning to you all, as we look on to the match against Olympiacos later in the day. It’s a fixture that we’ve won last year in our Champion’s League group stage, so I don’t see any reason to expect anything less of our team this year.
The Greeks have been in good form of late, winning 5 of their last 6 matches overall. We’ve endured a bit of a slide, and some injuries to key players, so don’t expect the most fluid performance tonight, but a solid one nonetheless. With Arteta a doubt for the match with an ankle injury out of nowhere, we’re most likely to see Aaron Ramsey and/or Francis Coquelin play a part. If I were to pick one as our deep-lying playmaker, I’d go for Coquelin, whose skill set is more suited to the demands that Arteta’s absence brings to the table.
Up front we should be looking to the bench, either at a surprise inclusion of Serge Gnabry, or for Theo Walcott to start. We all have a different opinion on Theo at the moment, and that’s fine, but we can’t let him rot on the bench. He’s still our player, and one we could have used a little more over the past few weeks. If neither of the aforementioned wingers get the nod to start, expect Alex Oxlade Chamberlain to take up the right-wing. Down the middle we need Giroud; Gervinho is no striker. On the left, Podolski is the obvious choice.
In defense, I’d go with Mertesacker and Vermaelen, who have proven nothing short of virtually impenetrable since the season began. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Andrè Santos play in this match, to rest Kieran Gibbs and give the side a greater attacking threat down the left side of the pitch. Despite Bacary Sagna having resumed full training with the first team, it’s still far too early to include him in the lineup, no matter how badly he wants to play. Carl Jenkinson can hold his own in this match, after all, this is second time around in the Champion’s League.
In terms of tactics, the plan should be simple: control the pace of the match, and nullify the on form striker Rafik Djebbour. Should Giroud start the match, crosses into the box are his bread and butter, it amazes me how little aerial service he gets. He should have little contest against the projected starting centre backs, Pablo Contreras and Kostas Manolas, who both measure under 6 feet tall.
The 2 man midfield pivot will have to be on their toes, and willing to commit to attack if we want to score easily. The reason why losing out on Diaby is such a huge blow is that he’s the link between both ends of the pitch. While he may be berated for dwelling on the ball, Diaby combines relative defensive competence with attacking grace. He’s so hard to replace, because what Diaby does usually requires two players in other teams.
It should be an exciting match that will be open from beginning to end. I predict a 2-1 win for us, with Podolski the second goal scorer. Olympiacos will score at the beginning of the second half, and madness will ensue.
Remember to comment to mock me for my inaccurate predictions after the match.