9th December 2015: Champions League Preview – Walcott option + the Ox is overdue a big performance

Welcome back. There isn’t long to wait now before we find out if we’ll be playing Champions, or Europa, League football after the New Year, and I have to admit, I’m as nervous as Wayne Rooney waiting for his pizza delivery. Will one, large, stuffed-crust suffice as a mid-morning snack? Can we complete a minor miracle and make it out of our group?

With a fully fit squad, I’d be very optimistic about our chances, but of course, we don’t have a full selection to choose from, as we’re missing our central midfield pairing in Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla and our best goalscorer in Alexis Sanchez. Throw in the fact their replacements have had one game to gel and find collective form and it’s hard not to worry as an Arsenal fan ahead of tonight’s trip to Olympiacos.

In terms of how we’ll line-up, the only change I can envisage would be bringing Theo Walcott in for a start at the expense of either Olivier Giroud, Joel Campbell or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Based on their respective form in last weekend’s win over Sunderland, the favourite to be dropped to the bench in favour of Theo would undoubtedly be the Ox. Yet barring any late injury concerns, my guess would be that Arsene Wenger will either go with the same starting line-up as last Saturday, or bring Walcott in for Giroud.

The Ox is certainly due a good performance and tonight would obviously be a great time for him to rediscover the sort of scintillating form he showed in pre-season. And the player himself has been discussing tonight’s game with Arsenal Player, highlighting the importance of both scoring early, but also keeping it tight at the back. He said:

If we can get that first goal we will really put them under pressure and we can push on and hopefully get another one. If they manage to score we are not out of it by any stretch of the imagination, we will just have to score a few more. We will see how the game goes but we need to defend first and foremost – keeping a clean sheet is the first task. We have got players in our side that can go and score goals and we will be focused on doing that. Olympiacos came to the Emirates and played really well on the night and showed us what a threat they can be. We have played at Olympiacos a number of times so it is a tough place to go and their fans can create a real buzzy atmosphere. It can be a bit intimidating but we have to feed off of that and go there and get two goals, defend well and get the result. Going into that game with nothing to lose, the boss uses the term: ‘playing without the handbrake on’. I think that is when we play our best stuff and if we do that we give ourselves the best chance.

On the opposite flank to the Ox, is likely to be Campbell, who fresh from scoring our opener against the Black Cats, will line-up against the side he played for, on loan from Arsenal, during the 2013-2014 campaign, scoring eight goals from 32 appearances for the Greeks. And the Costa Rican is expecting a tough battle in what he’s dubbed as our “most important game of the season so far”. He said:

[The win over Sunderland] was a good result for the team. We got the result and that’s what we wanted. Now we have to prepare mentally and physically for Wednesday’s game because it will be very difficult. We already played against Olympiacos at Emirates Stadium. They are a great team, a great rival and especially because they play at home. In the Pireo (Karaiskakis Stadium) it is very difficult to get points but it is the last game of the group stage and we will give our best. It is the most important game of the season so far. It will be a cup final and we have to win to continue in the Champions League.

I suppose it can only be a good thing that we have a player in our ranks who will know some of the oppositions players; their strengths and weaknesses, and also feel at home playing at their ground. But then that works both ways – they’ll also have a good idea of how they think they can stop Campbell from hurting them, having watched and studied his game at close quarters.

My gut feeling is that I need a poo we’ll do it tonight, but then I thought that just before the second legs against AC Milan, Bayern Munich (twice) and Monaco in recent years,  when we nearly manged the requisite result, but in the end fell tantalizingly, agonizingly, just short. Let’s hope tonight’s different and we can get the necessary win to carry us through.

Back tomorrow.

COYG!

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