Hide the women, children, and Ryo Miyaichi. The Olympiakons are coming. Arsenal’s second match of the group stage sees us play host to the Greek Champions, who come to London on the back of a 100% start to the season to face what they’ll doubtless consider a vulnerable Arsenal side. For our part, we’ll be looking to put together a run of three straight wins in all competitions ahead of Spurs on Sunday.
I confess to not knowing a vast amount about our opponents tonight. I’m told they’ll mirror Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 formation, and there’ll be a familiar face at centre-half in the furry shape of former Aston Villa skipper Olof Mellberg. A few insightful tweeters have tipped me off about tricksy Algerian winger Djamel Abdoun, who will try to cause Kieran Gibbs problems on the right-flank.
Gibbs will form part of a makeshift back four. An ankle problem for Laurent Koscielny means that we’re now without Thomas Vermaelen, Koscielny, Johan Djourou and Sebastien Squillaci. Had we not signed Per Mertesacker on deadline day, we’d now be without a recognised senior centre-half. Unsurprisingly, Ignasi Miquel is out too, so the German international is likely to be partnered by Alex Song.
Song’s place in the midfield will be taken by one of Frimpong or Coquelin, with Ramsey and Arteta fulfilling the more creative roles. Knee and hamstring problems mean Gervinho and Walcott are absent on the flanks, so Andrey Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky are the men most likely to provide support for centurion skipper Van Persie. The boss has yet again stepped forward to defend Arshavin, and I have to say I think he’s started this season significantly better than last. The Champions League has been the stage for some of his best Arsenal performances, and hopefully can prove so again tonight.
There is an outside chance that the 18-year old Alex Chamberlain will get a chance on the wing ahead of Rosicky. Even if he doesn’t start, he could well make his European debut from the bench.
Of tonight’s absentees Koscielny, Walcott, Gervinho, Djourou and Benayoun all have a chance to be in the squad for Spurs. One man who doesn’t is Jack Wilshere, with Arsene confirming he’s expected to miss 22 weeks as he recovers from ankle surgery. As frustrating as it is in the short term, we ought to be buoyed by the news that the operation was successful, and recognise that rest now will benefit both player and club in the long-term.
One final thing: it is a sad indictment of the lack of faith in the current squad that after his refusal to come on as substitute for Man City last night, I received several emails from Arsenal fans suggesting we should sign Carlos Tevez. Never, never, never. Whilst the player’s conduct makes him a disgrace to his profession, City in part brought it on themselves by entering in to a deal with the devil and his familiar – Joorabchian and Tevez. I feel confident that Arsenal will never make the same mistake.
We picked up a valuable point in Dortmund, but qualification is almost always decided by home form. Three points tonight will put us in a good position in the group ahead of the international break. Come On You Gunners…