The fixture has some similarities with the 1998 meeting with Panathinaikos, when Arsenal’s fate had already been decided and a youthful side stunned the hosts 3-1.
Words I wrote a year ago for a preview of the identical fixture come back to the forefront of my mind. Yes, there was a time we took a weakened side to Greece on matchday six and won. Last December however our youngsters were taught a bit of a lesson, the 3-1 repeat scoreline coming in favour of the hosts.
On that evening Francis Coquelin, Emmanuel Frimpong, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were exposed to the game at the highest level. Coquelin and Oxlade-Chamberlain will be considered senior professionals compared to some who have made the journey for the apparently annual meeting with Olympiacos.
Arsene has paid lip service at least to the importance of getting a result and thereby possibly topping the Group, although a win for us would have to be matched by Montpellier taking at least a point off Schalke in the other Group B fixture in France.
“There is something at stake and I’ll have to give a breather to some players who are on the edge, as well as go over there and win our game to make sure that we do the job until the end.”
Interesting to me is the fact that Theo Walcott is one ‘on the edge’ after just eight starts in four months. There is no doubt his contribution against Swansea would bear out that claim, but he is just 23 years of age. Our leading goalscorer and paciest attacker would have been a valuable asset given the importance placed on winning this match.
Looking at the travelling party I would imagine the most experienced squad players would start, so Wojciech Szczesny may keep behind a back four of Carl Jenkinson, Sebastien Squillaci, Thomas Vermaelen, and Jernade Meade, who played for Steve Bould and Neil Banfield as a left-back before being moved further forward.
Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey may be tasked with protecting that makeshift quartet, with Tomas Rosicky in the advanced midfield role. Out wide we are likely to start Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right and I suppose Gervinho will get the nod over Andrey Arshavin on the left (I know what you’re thinking, me too!). Leading the line we will surely see the return of Chamakh?
My expectations are well and truly managed by the naming of that squad. The ‘holic pound, usually punted on a value winning scoreline, looks for an unlikely hero to score for us. Tomas Rosicky at a top price of sixes looks interesting, but keep any punt on this game at the lower end of your affordability scale.
Arsene is clearly taking a calculated gamble, and perhaps should be applauded for freshening things up given that our fate is not entirely in our own hands on Tuesday night. A positive performance by that squad should certainly lift the spirits back at Shenley. On the other hand a result such as last season’s can be written off without too much wringing of hands.
That gamble will only be landed if a refreshed first team takes all three points against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. However, one game at a time, as they say. Good luck to that side tomorrow. We’re due a bit of that, I think.
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