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One last time in the stands

Second match of the Champions League and its the first home game at the Grove in the competition proper. Olympiakos are the visitors tonight and we are looking for our first win in the group stage after the draw at Dortmund in the opening round of fixtures. They are the reigning champions of Super League Greece.

As was obvious from the round of matches yesterday, there will be no easy games in this competition. Manchester United were missing a whole host of defensive and attacking talents, ended up only managing a home draw against a Basel side. Manchester City reached their first stumbling block and duly crashed against a very efficient and well-oiled Bayern Munich.

The reason I highlight those two examples are because we are in the same domestic league as them. Plus the fact that these two teams are currently “running” away from the rest of the chasing pack in terms of Premier League standings. While it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll have no chance at all in the European competition, it only serves as a reminder of what needs to be done.

There should be no talk of the upcoming North London Derby on Sunday. The focus should only be about tonight and how important those 3 points are to our hope of progressing past the group stages. There should be no resting of players to prepare them for more important games. This match should be treated as equally important.

I will be the first to admit that, I see nothing other than a win for us tonight. It’s not that I don’t rate Olympiakos at all but rather we’ve come a long way since we were having trouble beating sides like them. As long as the attitude is right and the players available have enough quality, we should end tonight with a total of 4 points acquired.

Even without the likes of Thomas Vermaelen, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Laurent Koscielny and Gervinho; Arsenal should still have too much fire power for the visiting side. The biggest worry is in the centreback position as the 2 aforementioned joins Johan Djourou in the treatment room just as Sebastien Squillaci is leaving there. With that in mind, I think we’ll line-up this way;

Arshavin—Van Persie—Rosicky

Of course, that line-up is based on what I think Arsene Wenger will go with. However, it is was up to me, I would have Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in place of Emmanuel Frimpong and Tomas Rosicky respectively. The former duo has done well in the last appearance, albeit in the Carling Cup. It doesn’t guarantee them spots but should be given another chance to show what they are capable of.

The choice of moving Alex Song back into defence is a no brainer. He has played there previously and rarely looks out of place. The alternative would be Ignasi Miquel and while the young Spaniard has done well in recent times, this is too crucial a match to risk him. I’m sure we all remember what happened the last time we sent out a very young side to play against Olympiakos.

Both Andrey Arshavin and Robin Van Persie scored in the corresponding fixture 2 seasons ago and all eyes will be on them to provide us with the attacking impetus. The Russian captain seemed to be running into some form this early in the season and that only augurs well for us. With the injuries to the squad, this is another opportunity for him to nail down a first team place once again. As the latter, RvP would be hoping to move on quickly to the next century of goals for us.

There are several familiar faces among the Greece side. Both of them has previous stints at Aston Villa. Olof Mellberg and Jean Makoun will be hoping to impart some English football knowledge to the team mates, in search for a result in London. They are not the only experienced heads available to coach Ernesto Valverde. The former Villareal coach can also look to Fran Yeste for some creativity and guidance to the rest of his team.

On paper, the men in red and white stripes looks to be the weakest among the 4 teams. However, we can only beat what is in front of us. To do that, we must rid ourselves of the notion that this match will be a walk in the park. Worth remembering that the last we meet in the same ground, we found it tough to break through only to find the opening goal in the last quarter of the game.

I don’t mind if we go on to break the scoring record that we set last season. However, I do think tonight will be a tight game. 3 points is all that matters in the last match that the team will be without Wenger on the bench. Then we can start to think about abusive songs for one Emmanuel Adebayor.