Arsenal will be hoping to seal safe passage through to the Round of 16 of the UEFA Europa League when they face Olympiacos at the Emirates on Thursday.
The Last 32 stage of the UEFA Europa League will culminate on Thursday, as the remaining second leg ties are played out. Arsenal will be one of the teams in action on the day, when they play hosts to Olympiacos, hoping to qualify for the next round of the competition.
Arsenal reached the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League after topping Group F, finishing a couple of points ahead of Eintracht Frankfurt. The Gunners are in the middle of a solid run of form, having not been beaten even once in 2020, winning each of their last three games.
Olympiacos, on the other hand, made it to the Europa League Round of 32 after finishing third in Group B of the UEFA Champions League. Like their hosts, the Greek outfit have been in fine touch, losing just one of their last 20 games across all competitions.
Coincidentally, the aforementioned defeat came at the hands of Arsenal, in the first leg tie last week, with the Gunners winning 1-0 courtesy a late Alexandre Lacazette strike. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Mikel Arteta has one fresh injury concern hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Olympiacos. On Thursday, the Arsenal manager could be without as many as five first-team players, with Sead Kolasinac the latest player on the sidelines.
Kolasinac sustained a shoulder injury early in Arsenal’s Premier League game against Everton this past weekend and is ruled out of the Olympiacos game. The Bosnian has joined Kieran Tierney (shoulder), Cedric Soares (knee) and Calum Chambers (knee) on the sidelines, while Pablo Mari is likely to miss out due to a lack of match fitness.
In the absence of Kolasinac, Bukayo Saka, who has provided the most assists for Arsenal this season, becomes a certain starter as their left-back. On the opposite flank, Ainsley Maitland-Niles could be preferred after a sub-par showing by Sokratis Papastathopoulos last time out.
At the heart of the Arsenal defence, there is no looking past David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi, who have forged a strong partnership in recent weeks. Bernd Leno started ahead of usual Europa League goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez in the first leg against Olympiacos and should be preferred once again between the sticks.
Up ahead in midfield, Granit Xhaka could be afforded a rest, with Lucas Torreira likely to come in after regaining fitness. Torreira will provide company to Matteo Guendouzi in the double pivot, with Joe Willock likely to start in an advanced midfield role.
Alexandre Lacazette was benched in the Premier League fixture last weekend and should be in prime condition to lead the line against Olympiacos. Willock will play off Lacazette, with Gabriel Martinelli and Reiss Nelson being given the chance to be the two wide men, meaning Nicolas Pepe and Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang get a breather.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Leno; Maitland-Niles, Mustafi, Luiz, Saka; Guendouzi, Torreira; Nelson, Willock, Martinelli; Lacazette
Unlike his counterpart in the Arsenal dugout, Pedro Martins has just one pressing issue to deal with ahead of his side’s latest fixture. On Thursday, the Olympiacos manager will be without just Ruben Semedo, who is suspended due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
Otherwise, Martins has a fully fit squad at his disposal and is expected to name his strongest eleven against Arsenal. The Olympiacos boss, meanwhile, should line his side up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Jose Sa taking his place in goal.
At the heart of the Olympiacos defence, Pape Abou Cisse is the favourite to replace Semedo and pair up with Ousseynou Ba. Konstantinos Tsimikas will be the visitors’ left-back while on the opposite flank, Omar Elabdellaoui picks himself.
Guilherme will sit at the base of the three-man midfield, hoping to stifle Arsenal during their build-up play. The 28-year-old will be supported by Mady Camara and Olympiacos captain Konstantinos Fortounis. While Camara will be the workhorse in the middle of the park, Fortounis will be in-charge of providing the creative impetus.
Up ahead, Youssef El Arabi will spearhead the Olympiacos attack against Arsenal, with Mathieu Valbuena and Giorgos Masouras being the two wide men for the visitors, with the duo looking to cut in and create overloads in central areas.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3):Sa; Elabdellaoui, Cisse, Ba, Tsimikas; Fortounis, Guilherme, Camara; Masouras, El-Arabi, Valbuena
- Arsenal have won three of their four home meetings with Olympiacos across all competitions, although they did lose the last such match 2-3 in the 2015-16 Champions League group stage.
- Including qualifiers, Arsenal have progressed from all 17 of their European ties when winning the first leg away from home. Should the Gunners avoid defeat here, they’ll have progressed from as many two-legged knockout ties in the last three seasons in the UEFA Europa League as they did in the Champions League between 2000-01 and 2016-17 (8).
- Including qualifiers, Olympiacos have won just two of their 32 European ties when losing the first leg, getting past FK Rad in the 1989-90 UEFA Cup, and Chornomorets Odesa in the 1992-93 Cup Winner’s Cup.
- Excluding qualifiers, Olympiacos have lost 10 of their past 11 away games in European competition, beating F91 Dudelange 2-0 in the other (October 2018).
- Bukayo Saka has the most assists in the 2019-20 UEFA Europa League this season (excluding qualifiers) and is the first English player to assist 5+ goals in a single campaign since the competition was rebranded.
Player to Watch
It has been quite the topsy turvy season for Alexandre Lacazette. After making a decent start to his campaign, the French striker went through an extended period of lull, struggling to find the back of the net on a consistent basis.
Now, though, with Eddie Nketiah breathing down his neck, Lacazette finally seems to be clawing his way back into top form. Arsenal will need Lacazette at his best once again, in the hope that a place in the Round of 16 will be their’s for the taking. A solid performance will also help Lacazette nail down his place in the side once again.
Arsenal 2-0 Olympiacos
The late goal scored in the first leg means Arsenal will breathe easy right from the get-go on Thursday. Defence has tightened up admirably under the tutelage of Mikel Arteta and the Gunners should be hard to surpass at the back once again.
With confidence building up all over the group, Arsenal should pose a significant threat in the final third. Olympiacos will look to take the game to Arsenal from the early stages, which should play into the hands of the hosts. Hence, The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-0 win for Arteta & co.