Arsenal will be aiming to kickstart the knockout phase of their UEFA Europa League campaign with a win when they face off against Greek outfit Olympiacos.
The Round of 32 phase of the 2019-20 UEFA Europa League kickstarts this Thursday and Premier League giants Arsenal will be looking to take a step closer to the next round when they lock horns with Olympiacos at the Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus, Greece.
Arsenal qualified for the knockout stages of the competition by finishing at the top of Group F with 11 points from 6 games. Since then, they have gone to change the manager with Mikel Arteta replacing Unai Emery, under whom they have lost just one of their ten games.
The Gunners are currently on an eight-game unbeaten run in all competitions, with their latest match against Newcastle United ending in a 4-0 win. Olympiacos, on the other hand, enter the Europa League after finishing third in their Champions League group.
The Greek giants haven’t lost a single game since November last year, extending their unbeaten run to 18 matches in all competitions following their 4-0 win over Panionios in the league this past weekend. And manager Pedro Martins will be hoping to carry forward this momentum when Arsenal come visiting.
Arsenal and Olympiacos have met each other eight times previously, winning four games each. And ahead of their latest meeting on Thursday night, we at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at both the teams.
Team News & Tactics
The hosts do not have a lot of injury concerns heading into the game, with winger Hillal Soudani the only player likely to miss out with a knee issue. Having used a 4-4-2 formation in the last game, manager Martins could switch to 4-3-3, which he used in the Champions League fixtures earlier in the season.
Jose Sa is the undisputed choice in goal for Olympiacos, while Omar Elabdellaoui is likely to return to the lineup at right-back after missing the last game. Ruben Semedo is another player who will return to the side, partnering Pape Abou Cisse at the heart of the hosts’ backline. Konstantinos Tsimikas will occupy the left-back slot against Arsenal.
Mady Camara will sit as the deepest of the three midfielders and look to disrupt Arsenal’s rhythm and flow in the middle. He will be supported by Brazilian enforcer Guilherme, who wasn’t involved in the last game for Olympiacos.
The final slot in midfield will be a toss-up between captain Konstantinos Fortounis and veteran Mathieu Valbuena, with the latter likely to get the nod, considering that he has been directly involved in 26 goals this season.
Giorgos Masouras will occupy the left flank for Olympiacos while the opposite wing is likely to be taken up by Lazar Randjelovic. The duo will be key in providing service for star striker Youssef Al-Arabi, who has plundered 22 goals in all competitions this season.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Sa; Elabdellaoui, Semedo, Cisse, Tsimikas; Valbuena, Camara, Guilherme; Randjelovic, Al-Arabi, Masouras
Arsenal will be without the services of playmaker Mesut Ozil, who isn’t travelling to Greece due to personal reasons. Midfielder Lucas Torreira will also not be involved due to illness, while Calum Chambers, Kieran Tierney and January signing Cedric Soares remain sidelined. Pablo Mari is fit and available for selection for the Gunners.
It will be interesting to see if Arteta decides to rest some of his regulars with an important game against Everton coming up in the Premier League at the weekend. However, given the form that their opponents have been in, the Spaniard is likely to go in with a full-strength side in Piraeus.
That would mean Bernd Leno gets the nod in goal ahead of Europa League regular Emiliano Martinez. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac could come in as the full-backs for Arsenal, but Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz are likely to keep their place at the heart of the Gunners’ defence.
Dani Ceballos made an impressive return to the starting XI against Newcastle United and should be retained in the lineup. The Spaniard ought to be paired up with former Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka once again in the midfield double pivot. With Ozil unavailable, Joe Willock is in contention to start as the No. 10 for the visitors on Thursday.
Gabriel Martinelli will be pushing for a start after not featuring in the weekend clash. The Brazilian could slot in on the right flank in place of Nicolas Pepe, while captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should hold on to his spot on the left. Spearheading the attack for Arsenal should be Alexandre Lacazette, who ended his goal drought this past weekend.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Leno; Maitland-Niles, Mustafi, Luiz, Kolasinac; Ceballos, Xhaka; Martinelli, Willock, Aubameyang; Lacazette
- This will be Arsenal’s ninth meeting with Olympiacos – they’ve only ever faced Bayern Munich more often in all European competition (12).
- None of the eight previous meetings between Olympiacos and Arsenal have finished level, with each side winning four games including 3/4 home wins for the Greek side.
- Arsenal have progressed from 11 of their last 12 two-legged knockout ties in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, falling only at the 2017-18 semi-final in this run.
- Olympiacos have won just one of their last 11 knockout stage matches in major European competitions (D4 L6), winning 3-0 at Osmanlispor at this stage of the 2016-17 Europa League.
- Bukayo Saka has been involved in six Europa League goals this season (2 goals, 4 assists), more than any other Arsenal player. Indeed, only three players in the competition as a whole have been involved in more goals than the 18-year-old this term.
Player to Watch
After a poor run of form that lasted two months during which he failed to score a single goal, Alexandre Lacazette bounced back to goal-scoring ways this past weekend against Newcastle United. After coming on as a substitute against the Magpies, the Frenchman assisted Mesut Ozil’s goal before finding the back of the net with a scuffed effort.
It was clear that the lack of goals had affected Lacazette’s confidence in a big way. However, having ended his goal drought, the Arsenal star will have his tails up heading into the Olympiacos game and will be aiming to build on that display against the Magpies.
Olympiacos 1-1 Arsenal
Olympiacos have been in very good form heading into the Europa League encounter. The Greek outfit haven’t lost a single game since their 4-2 defeat to Tottenham in the Champions League back in November. And, playing on their own turf, in front of their supporters, the hosts will be a force to be reckoned with.
Arsenal, too, are in a good moment currently, having not lost in their last eight matches and will be high on morale following their resounding 4-0 win against Newcastle United. They are slowly coming into their own under Mikel Arteta and will pose a serious threat to the home team, making for an enticing match-up.
However, the Gunners’ away record hasn’t been all too favourable, which will count against them. And that is why, we at The Hard Tackle are predicting the first leg of this Round of 32 stage encounter to end in a 1-1 draw.