Olympiacos Preview

Tonight we see the return of European football to the grove as Greek Super League champions Olympiacos are the first of our group F opponents to visit London.

The last time we faced Ernesto Valverde’s side was during the 2009/10 season – Valverde wasn’t at the helm of Erythrolefki at the time, having lead the side to the Greek double the previous season, his first at the club, his contract was not renewed after he found himself on the wrong side of a financial dispute at board level. The Spaniard moved to Villareal where he replaced Real Madrid bound Manuel Pellegrini on a one year deal, however Valverde could not replicate the success the Chilean had enjoyed at El Madrigal and after suffering an embarrassing 0-2 home defeat at the hands of Osasuna he was torpedoed by the yellow submarines. By August of the same year he was back in Piraeus and once again led Greece’s most successful club side to yet another league championship.

Valverde

During that last encounter between the two sides Olympiacos enjoyed a rare victory over English opposition winning the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from Leonardo. It was our final group fixture of that seasons competition and with qualification to the next round already secured, after the Gunners had won group H, Arsene Wenger fielded a side made up of reserve and youth team players. Mikael Silvestre captained the side out in Greece that night in a back four that also included Kerra Gilbert, Kyle Bartley and Thomas Cruise.

Cruise

Francis Coquelin was an unused sub that night and young Franny could find himself in the starting line up for tonight’s clash.

During his press conference yesterday Wenger revealed that Laurent Koscielny, Gervinho and Theo Walcott would all miss the game having joined Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere, Thomas Vermaelen, Johan Djourou, Sebastian Squillaci and Yossi Benayoun in the treatment room. Even young centre half Iggy Miquel picked up a knock during the warm up prior to the reserves 1-0 win over Blackburn at Underhill on Monday night. So all in all we’re incredibly thin on the ground when it comes to the centre of our defence.

It’s likely that we’ll see Alex Song step in alongside Per Mertesacker at centre half, it’s a position the Cameroon international is familiar with and whilst we have to hope he won’t be required to play there at White Hart Lane on Sunday I would expect him to cope with any threat the Greeks may pose. I must admit, casting an eye over the Olympiacos squad list there are very few names I recognise. The one that immediately catches the eye is Olof Mellberg, the former Aston Villa defender and first player to score a competitive goal at the Emirates. Aside from the Swede there are very few players I am familiar with, Jean II Makoun is on loan from Villa and may well face his compatriot Alex Song.

That's a quality beard

Wenger will once again have to choose between Kieran Gibbs and Andy Santos at left back, personally I would like to see the Englishman continue from where he left off against Bolton on Saturday. With our back line already disrupted by Koscielny’s absence it would seem somewhat negligent to force another change in that area after Saturdays clean sheet.

So with Song taking up central defensive duties instead of defensive midfield there is yet another decision for le gaffer to take, who deputises for the Cameroonian, Franny Coquelin or Manny Frimpong?

Franny

I think that over the past few weeks the Frenchman may have edged in front of his Ghanaian team-mate in this particular race. He was something of a bright spark when he made his debut in the crushing dark of Old Trafford and was pipped to the man of the match award in last weeks league cup win over Shrewsbury Town by an outstanding second half display from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. So for my money it would be Franny making up a midfield three alongside Mickey Arteta and Aaron Ramsey.

Up top Arsenal goal scoring centurion Robin Van Persie will again lead the line as well as captain the side and along with Andrey Arshavin I would like to see the skipper flanked by AOC ahead of Thomas Rosicky. I think the young Englishman would relish the opportunity to take on the Olympiacos defence and would pose more of a threat than the Czech. Also with Theo & Gervinho both unavailable we’re a little light on pace, again something The Ox has in spades unlike Tommy.

A starting XI of: Szczesny – Sagna – Mertesacker – Song – Gibbs – Coquelin – Arteta – Ramsey – Oxlade-Chamberlain – Van Persie – Arshavin would be my choice and should have the ability to see off the Greek champions and claim our first three European points of the season.

Due to our defensive depletion expect to see Daniel Boateng on the bench just 48 hours after completing ninety minutes for the reserves, and he may not be the only one in the dug out to have done so. Of course Arsene won’t be down there with them as he sees out his touchline ban.

Boateng

It should certainly be a good game, the Greeks will try to get at us as much as possible and their support will no doubt make themselves heard across north London. The one big hope I have, aside from three points, is that we don’t suffer any further injuries. This is certainly a game we need to win but with the first NLD of the season barring down on us we can ill afford to lose anyone else.

Enjoy the game wherever you’re watching it and I’ll be back in the morning with a post match report.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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