It’s that time of the year again! One look at the Arsenal FC team sheet will tell you that we are approaching the festive period of the football season, with a bunch of the Gunners players ruled out due to injury.
While there is some good news that midfielder Aaron Ramesy has returned to action, the walking-wounded count in the Arsenal FC camp is still at eight, with Alexis Sanchez (hamstring), Santi Cazorla (knee), Francis Coquelin (knee), Mikel Arteta (knock), Thomas Rosicky (knee), Jack Wilshere (ankle), and Danny Welbeck (knee), all being ruled out.
Another uncannily usual situation the Gunners seem to have found themselves in, is the fact that they are facing Olympiakos in matchday six of the Champions League group stage. in the last seven seasons, Arsenal FC have been drawn against Olympiakos four times, and each time, they have had to travel to Athens on matchday six.
However, one difference this time is that they actually need to get a win out of this game, in order to progress to the knockout stages.
The remaining 20 ‘Guns’
With around one-thirds of his squad injured, manager Arsene Wenger has a real headache on the cards, heading into the festive period. But first, he must negotiate a tricky away tie at Olympiakos, a tie that the Arsenal FC simply must win, to progress to the knockout stages of the competition.
In spite of all these injuries, the ones that Wenger would probably miss the most are Alexis Sanchez and Francis Coquelin. While Sanchez has been instrumental in driving the team forward in attack, Coquelin has played the crucial role of sitting back and protecting the Gunners’ back four.
After a long time Arsenal FC have had a player like Coquelin, his exploits as the pivot of the midfield has allowed the rest of the attacking players to bomb forward and get the goals. This has still kept them in the hunt for the Premier League title.
They have had a horrendous November, in which they only managed a solitary win at home against Dinamo Zagreb, the Gunners finally seem to have gotten their season back on track with a 3-1 win against Sunderland, at the Emirates.
However, the 3-1 scoreline flatters to deceive in a way, and the relief was quite evident on Wenger’s face, when Ramsey made it 3-1 against the relegation-threatened Sunderland.
A task of ‘Olympian’ magnitude?
Olympiakos on the other hand are on a brilliant run of form, losing just once in their last 15 matches in all competitions. This one loss was a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, something that can be excused, one might say, for a team that hails from an economically crippled region for Europe.
Portuguese manager Marco Silva is working wonders in Athens, and the results are there for everyone to see. There are even comparisons being drawn with the likes of other successful managers from the Iberian country, with the likes of Jose Mourinho and Andres Villas Boas being named (especially because Silva is just 38-years-old).
Olympiakos like to let the opposition have the possession of the ball, and hit back on the counter attack and, with the likes of Felipe Pardo and Brown Ideye in their side, they look very dangerous on the counter while Konstantinos Fortounis is the main creative creative force from the no. 10 role.
Also, with holding midfielder Esteban Cambiasso back again from injury the Thrylos would be looking to slot the Argentinian immediately back into the pivoting midfield role with Pajtim Kasami or Luka Milivojevic. Silva does have a bit of a headache in this area, but a problem of plenty is better than the one Wenger is facing at the moment.
The equation for Arsenal FC
The Gunners currently sit on the third spot in Group F, three points behind Olympiakos. A win at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium would mean that Arsenal FC would go level on points (nine) with the Thrylos, but it may not ensure qualification.
Olympiakos had beaten Arsenal FC at the Emirates, in the reverse fixture, and as UEFA counts the head-to-head record instead of the straightforward goal difference, things are a bit tricky. Simply put, the Gunners must win by a margin of at least two goals. If they win by a one-goal margin, then they must make sure that the scoreline is 3-2 or above, in their favour, as away goals also comes into the equation.
A 3-2 win will take them through, as the aggregate score between Arsenal FC and Olympiakos would be 5-5, with both the teams having scored the same number of away goals. In this case, the goal difference comes into play and the Gunners are ahead by three goals in this regard.
For Olympiakos though, the equations is quite simple — get a draw, and progress to the next stage.
It would indeed be a great achievement for the Greek side to pip the English giants to the Round of 16, bringing more misery upon Arsenal FC. They certainly would not want to have the dubious record of not being able to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time in 15 years.