Arsenal hope to avoid Greek tragedy against Olympiakos after resting number of key players
Monday 03 December 2012
The dubious honour of topping Group B may still be within Arsenal's grasp but perhaps of greater significance on Tuesday night is a need to produce a display that suggests their season is not in irreversible decline.
A run of just four wins from 12 matches has created a sense that this campaign is slipping away from Arsène Wenger's control at an alarming rate. Wenger has often fallen back on the Gunners' impressive Champions League record – they have already qualified for their 13th successive knockout phase – and so it is apt that the same competition provides him brief respite from their domestic woe.
The Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus is a familiar ground, too, providing the setting for final group game dead rubbers both last year and in 2009, with both ending in defeat. It was perhaps with both matches in mind that Wenger opted for a blend of fringe players and youth-team hopefuls to accompany him to Greece.
Victory combined with Montpellier gaining at least a point against Schalke would secure first place but, with only Barcelona, Malaga and Manchester United – whom Arsenal cannot draw due to Uefa's country protection rules which apply until the quarter-finals – guaranteed to finish first, the strength of their possible opponents is impossible to determine. Real Madrid, Paris St-Germain, Juventus and Valencia are all currently second in their respective groups.
The likely scrambled line-up will dilute any assessment of the damage inflicted by Saturday's 2-0 home Premier League defeat to Swansea but it will be a vital gauge of the mood in the camp. Most of the players set to be involved are not first-team regulars, with several, including Andrei Arshavin, Sebastien Squillaci and Marouane Chamakh, given a rare opportunity ahead of possible departures next month.
"I just take this game as another game we want to win," said Wenger. "I believe it was in the best interest of our potential to win the game because many players were on the edge on Saturday."
Arsenal stood on the edge staring into the abyss on Saturday – tonight may show how much they were affected by what they saw.
Kick-off Tonight, 7.45pm, Karaiskakis Stadium.
TV ITV 1. Referee A U Mallenco (Sp).
Odds: Olympiakos 2-1, Draw 5-2, Arsenal 6-4.
As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”
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