After getting back to winning ways in the Premier League, Arsenal now need to kick-start their Champions League campaign when hosting Olympiakos at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday. Arsene Wenger’s side suffered a hugely disappointing opening to the group stage when going down 2-1 at Dinamo Zagreb two weeks ago. But, while that loss was followed by a 2-0 reversal at the home of London rivals Chelsea, Arsenal have since beaten Tottenham in the Capital One Cup before a 5-2 win over Leicester City on Saturday that Wenger described as their “most convincing” attacking display this season.
The pressure, though, is certainly on ahead of the Greek champions’ arrival. Having lost their opening away game, it is now vital that Arsenal take care of business at home ahead of home and away meetings with Bayern Munich. And while this is still a group Arsenal really should be qualifying from, they are already fighting against the odds to claim top spot.
More than any club, Arsenal should be well aware of the pitfalls of coming only second in their group. Indeed, in each of the last five seasons Arsenal have been dumped out of the Champions League in the Round of 16 having had to take on a group winner.
The Champions League remains the one major title to elude Wenger in his 19 years at Arsenal, something that Wenger stressed ahead of the match in Zagreb provides a powerful motivation. Given the club’s resources, it is very much ambition they should now be targeting. Yet only once in the last 10 years has a club gone onto lift the trophy having failed to top their group.
Some positive news for Arsenal ahead of Tuesday’s fixture is that midfielder Francis Coquelin is fighting to return to fitness after a knee injury. Mathieu Flamini, though, is now missing after he suffered a hamstring problem during the win over Leicester. Olivier Giroud will also be absent following his sending off in Zagreb.
More encouraging for Arsenal is the record of their next opponents in England. Olympiakos have lost on their last 12 visits to the country, scoring just three times and conceding 37. This is the fourth time in the last seven seasons that Arsenal and Olympiakos have been drawn together in the group stage. And while there is reason for caution for Arsenal when visiting Greece, having lost on the previous three occasions, the Premier League side have been dominant on home soil.
Like Arsenal, Olympiakos’ Champions League campaign began with a defeat, when going down 3-0 at home to Bayern Munich. But things have gone much better in the Greek Super League, where the champions for the past five seasons have won their first five games, scoring 16 goals in the process. Coach Marco Silva will also be boosted by the surprise return from injury of Manuel da Costa. The former West Ham defender is just one of several former Premier League players in Olympiakos’ ranks, with the club having this summer signed striker Brown Ideye from West Brom and veteran midfielder Esteban Cambiasso, who spent last season at Leicester.
Prediction: Olympiakos are fairly canny operators at this level and have the ability to make life difficult for Arsenal. But the quality of Wenger’s men in attacking areas really should shine through, especially after Alexis Sánchez returned to form at the weekend with a hat-trick.
Predicted score: Arsenal 2-0 Olympiakos