Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Scouting Report: The Olympiacos Threat

So what to expect from our rivals tonight? Well compared to many teams across Europe we are probably best inclined to know about Olympiacos. This is the third time we have been in the group stage of the Champions League with them in recent years, with the home side prevailing on each occasion.

Wenger has stressed the importance of home form in the Champions League, saying:

“The Champions League is simple - you need one away win and three home wins. We have done the first part of the job, now the second part is to be strong at home. It is only a big advantage to have an away win if you are efficient at home. That is what is at stake for us." 

Arsenal have certainly showed that consistency since their move to the Emirates. The Gunners have only suffered 1 defeat in 38 home games in the Champions League, and that was the 2009 semi final defeat against Manchester United the eventual winners.

Coupled with the scintillating Arsenal home form, Olympiacos are known for being poor travellers and have only won three of their 56 away Champions League matches. They also have a wretched record in England, losing all 10 European away games here. Yet they certainly cannot be underestimated.

Despite making a poor start to the group, with a 1-0 defeat at home to Schalke, Olympiacos have European pedigree and experience and will relish the chance to get some points on the board. Arsene Wenger illustrated the fact that they should not be underestimated, saying that "They are highly motivated to know they have to give everything to make it through, [they] are already in a position where their backs are to the wall because they have lost at home and in this Champions League when you lose at home it is very difficult,"

But what threat do the Greek Champions pose?

Well after winning their 39th League title, the Greek champions split with their coach, and sold some of their star players - most notably Kevin Mirallas to Everton. But Valverde's replacement, the ex-Braga manager Leonardo Jardim is a talented manager and has a 100% record in the league so far, with Olympiacos storming to the top of the league after 5 victories.

At Braga Leonardo Jardim worker wonders, challenging the trinity of Porto, and the Lisbon based clubs Benfica and Sporting for the European places. He even claimed a club record 15 win streak in the process. The Portugese manager, Jardim, sets his side up in an attacking 4231 formation with experienced defensive minded midfielders in the 2 covering for forward thinking fullbacks. 

The key danger man is definitely the Algerian Rafik Djebbour, who has notched up 25 goals in only 35 appearances since joining Olympiacos in 2011. The 6ft 1in frame gives Djebbour a powerful physique which he combines with his pace to case a major threat to teams. He likes to drift out from the centre of the pitch, and makes clever runs in-between defenders. On his day his finishing is electric from any angle, and Arsenal's defence will face a stern test from the French born Algerian.

The Mirallas replacements are another Algerian Abdoum, who is a direct winger and Paulo Machado who signed for 2.7 million euros, and looks to cut in from the left and uses his pace and dribbling skills. Representing their main threats to our side, it will be key for Gibbs and Jenkinson to concentrate and be supported by midfielders around them so as to be left left isolated. But given how well the coped with Hazard and Mata last weekend, and Silva and Aguero the weekend before, I'm sure they'll be up for the test.

In midfield, the 35 years old Argentine playmaker Ariel Ibagaza has been defying his age and producing some stunning performances in recent years, winning two title in Greece. He is technically very gifted and got an assist at the Emirates last year, so we should know his threat. He will be key for Olympiacos getting any result, as he will try and help them keep the ball and use their possession well.

A recognisable figure should be Roy Carroll, the ex-United goalkeeper, who has started every league game so far. He has had many games against Arsenal, and has forged a successful career for himself since leaving United.

In terms of our players, Cazorla will be monitored closely by the two holding midfielders, in particularly Frenchman Modesto, but he should be able to still find space and opportunities to create chances, whilst Podolski and the other wide players will certainly be keen on exploiting the gaps left behind by the attacking full backs. Up front, it seems Giroud will get a chance to start and will be relishing the chance to face the Olympiacos centre-backs. Overall they provide no great test, with a solid partnership yet to be found by the new manager. Siovas, Papazoglou and Manolas are hardly established players in Europe, and Arsenal should have more than enough to trouble the defence.

With Arteta facing a late fitness test, it remains to be seen whether he will feature, and Coquelin may get his chance in the starting eleven. Without our experienced Spaniard carrying out his defensive duties, Coquelin and the midfield around him will have to focus on runs from deep, which play a key part of Olympiacos' game.

Overall, Olympiacos will pose a threat to our defence through their tricky forwards, and the confidence gained from their domestic form. But, at the Emirates, and with a strong expected line-up, Arsenal should be able to prevail by a couple of goals.

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