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All smiles

Santi Cazorla doesn’t want to be Finnish does he. Especially if that means he won’t even be travelling to major tournaments, let alone play in them. While Arsene Wenger named the country, I don’t think he was specifically looking down on Finland’s national side but merely because Carl Jenkinson was seated right beside him and thus the name association. Wenger himself would have been proud to see the matured way that Jenkinson fielded the questions. Always a thought response, it was impressive to watch.

But you’re not here to read what I think about Jenkinson’s performance during a press conference, so let’s dived straight into the important matter of the match. Olympiacos is the opponent tonight and another win for us would see us being in a very strong position to qualify from the group and finish top of the group. It will be a familiar game for us having been drawn in the same group as them last season. In man ways, our pairing is turning out the same way as the Real Madrid and Ajax one.

While the fixture is the same, some of the personnel involved will be different on both sides of the pitch. For the visitors; Olof Mellberg has gone to Villareal, Ivan Marcano and Pablo Orbaiz has moved to Rubin Kazan, Kevin Mirallas has of course gone to Everton. Those 4 started the game at the Grove last season. As for those who started for us last season, Alex Song has gone to Barcelona while both Andrey Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh have been sent to the island-of-the-rarely-seen.

In the team news, we will be without the service of Abou Diaby and most likely Mikel Arteta. The former we kind of knew about after he was substituted early in the Chelsea game. Say what you will about his contributions in some games but had Diaby stayed on, it could be different in the way the midfield battle was played out on Saturday, not necessarily the final outcome of the game. It is the possible absence of the latter which is more worrying.

I’m sure many have said and continue to be impressed by the work that Arteta has put in as the pivot of the midfield. His awareness and intelligence in reading the game is probably unmatched in the current squad. Without him, it is hard to see our game being as smooth as it normally is. However, just like the case with Diaby’s absence, it is a chance for someone else to show their worth and stake a claim.

With Emmanuel Frimpong still very short on match fitness and sharpness, the duty falls to the hands of Francis Coquelin. The French youngster had a very encouraging first full season with us in the last campaign. Not always played in his preferred central midfield position but shone nonetheless. There’s enough verve and drive in his game to suggest that he could certainly make a career out of it at Arsenal. From a perspective point of view, Coquelin certainly have more in him at his current experience level than Alex Song did during his time.

In the likelihood that Arteta does miss out and Coquelin plays, Aaron Ramsey will not only get to start for the third match running but also start in the position which he truly see himself in. That’s the central midfield position. It’s one which does not need him to focus entirely on attacking or defending but a bit of both. This being a home game, one would expect him to be on the front foot more often than not. It’s the timing of his late runs into attack and getting into good positions that would be beneficial to us come the end of tonight’s game. Call it guts, have a feeling that he might get on the score sheet tonight.

Up front, I believe that Olivier Giroud will get another start under his belt with Gervinho shifted to the right side to compensate for Ramsey moving in-field. Either that or the Ivorian will be rested and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being given a chance. The star of Ox TV was of course the star of the corresponding match last season, grabbing his first European goal for us along the way. In the less physical European game, Giroud is likely to make a bigger impact than he will be in the English game. After his first goal for the club on the same day last week, he will be raring to go.

Another win and that puts another 3 points closer to the next phase of the competition. While I appreciate that the players always aim for the best, this isn’t the easiest competition to win, by any stretch of the imagination. Until we have secured qualification from the group stage, there’s really no point entertaining the possibility of actually lifting the premier European cup competition.

Perhaps more than most, tonight’s game will be about proving that Saturday is just a blip and the team is ready to go on long run of positive results.

Up The Arsenal!!!