The usual five talking points ahead of tonight’s round of 32 second leg at home to Olympiacos
Rotation, rotation, rotation?
It was interesting to see that only five players began both the first leg against Olympiacos and the home match v Everton, with the latter seeing the stronger line-up. However, of the six that came in for Sunday, four made the trip to Athens. So Arteta is prepared to mix and match for fatigue reasons, although that didn’t stop the side looking a little physically jaded in the second half against Everton, and it should be remembered that Bukayo Saka ended up playing most of that game as well as starting in Athens. So we wait to see what happens this evening, although short-term, the head coach at least has the knowledge that there is no league match on Sunday, Manchester City being otherwise engaged, and League One opposition in the FA Cup on Monday evening. So I think, given the potential importance of the Europa League as the season develops, that we will see a strong team this evening, with most of those that started on Sunday retaining their spots. The rest will get a run-out at Fratton Park.
Beware Greeks bearing… an attacking threat
After an early flurry in Athens, Olympiacos rarely troubled Bernd Leno. That isn’t to say that is going to be the case this evening though. Fortune can be as important in cup games as online casino live dealer games and it should not be forgotten that Olympiacos have scored on their previous three visits to the Emirates, netting three times on the last occasion they were here. They will have a bit of a nothing to lose approach to the game. Sure, they won’t go gung ho from the off, but they are not going to park the bus given their need to score either. Arsenal’s best tactic would be to score in the first half and force the opposition to commit, needing two goals. They can then be picked off at the break. What I don’t really want to see this evening is too much of ‘we hold what we have’, given the delicate nature of the tie. This one’s only halfway done and a one goal lead can be cancelled out in a second.
The left-back dilemma
Will Bukayo Saka be asked to play again? I genuinely fear the danger of the lad being overplayed here and the last thing we want is an injury to a teenager that has effectively become a first choice for many. We won’t be seeing Kolasinac back anytime soon, although there is hope that Kieran Tierney will be back in March. But tonight? Arteta won’t want to move Granit Xhaka, so there could be a case of Ainsley Maitland-Niles to start. It’s hardly ideal, but playing Saka is a risk. He shouldn’t be played again until West Ham the weekend after next. I reckon Arteta will start him though…
Two form teams
Olympiacos beat second placed PAOK last weekend to secure their place at the top of the domestic table. They’d settle for the same scoreline tonight – 1-0 – to give them a 50/50 chance of progress from via a penalty shoot-out. Arsenal have put together a sequence of three wins since their midwinter training camp in Dubai that could be seen as evidence of the methods Mikel Arteta has introduced to the club. Momentum is a wonderful thing, and what will be really interesting is to see how Arsenal react to the end of a good run. In the past, even going back to the days of the Invincibles, the answer is not well. Hopefully we won’t need to find out too soon.
Bums on seats
Over the years, a tendency for season ticket holders not to take their seats for the majority of midweek European matches developed after the move to the Emirates. There is a combination of factors for this – obviously the matches are on TV, much of the competition is played in autumn and winter when frankly it’s not always pleasant to be out and about, and the group stage opposition is often uninspiring, with progress believed to be a given. Downgrading to the Europa League didn’t help that much in this regard either. Tonight’s game does matter and a large supportive home crowd will help the team. I have to admit I’m not optimistic though. I reckon at least one in four seats will be empty, and the majority of the noise will come from the away section. Welcome to Arsenal 2020. Hopefully Mikel Arteta can begin to change that and give people real motivation to attend.
As long as Arsenal don’t do anything suicidal, they should have enough to see themselves through to the round of 16, Lacazette’s late winner in Athens crucial in this regard. Remember a draw will be enough. I expect a cagey game, possibly scoreless by half-time, in spite of my wish for a home goal to settle the nerves. Maybe a goal or two in the second 45 once things open up a bit, but not a high scoring match. I will probably stick a bet on less than 2.5 goals, and Arsenal progress to tomorrow’s draw at UEFA HQ in Nyon.
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