To Olympiakos We Go


Arsenal return to Europa League action with a trip to Greece, taking on Olympiakos at the Karaiskakis Stadium for the 1st leg of their last-32 tie. Mikel Arteta, of course, will oversee his first game on the continental scene.

The Gunners go into this match on the back of an eight-match unbeaten run across all competitions since the turn of the year. Even though half ended in draws, the Gunners will still be in high-spirits following their 4-0 second half razing of Newcastle United in a league encounter this past Sunday.

However, Arteta does not shy away from saying the players still have a long way to go to meet his expectations, while also recognising that they’re moving in the right direction. The progress they have made is something we can all be proud of because it implies that the Spaniards message is filtering through.

We have reached this ’round of 32′ as group F winners, however, with a mixed bag of results. After winning the opening three group games, we went winless in each of their last three (D2, L1). So no doubt Arteta will be hoping we hit some consistency to continue the progression as he targets success in the Cup competitions.

Meanwhile, Olympiakos play their first game in this season’s Europa, after being bumped down from the Champions League. They come into this match on the back of a comfortable 4-0 win themselves this past weekend on the domestic front and will be full of confidence.

Pedro Martins’ side is on a great run of form at the moment, in fact the last time they lost a match was on the 26th November against Tottenham in the CL. They are unbeaten after 24 matches in the Greek Super League (W18, D6); boasting a formidable goalscoring record of 50 league goals with only nine in reply.

They lead PAOK by two points and play them this coming weekend. So while that match will likely take priority with them targeting domestic success, we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking they won’t try advance to the next round of the Europa at our expense. Arteta made no bones about seeing them as tough opponents:

“Papa [Sokratis] has made us even more aware of that, if we had any doubts… He knows everything about Olympiacos, about the country, about the type of fans that we are going to find here.

“I’ve been very aware from the games that I’ve watched about them and their passion, their quality and the atmosphere that we are going to have to be playing in tomorrow. So yes, it’s a difficult trip away from home and we’re going to expect a tough game and we’ve prepared for the game knowing that it’s going to be a difficult challenge.”

Team news

Of the notable absentees from the travelling party are Lucas Torreira, who misses out through illness, and Mesut Özil, him and his wife are expecting their first child – congratulations to Mr and Mrs Özil.

With the Europa providing an alternative route into next season’s Champions League Arteta could have a selection dilemma – does he rotate or pick the strongest XI from those available?

There have been some impressive performance of late though and some on the fringes that have really put their hands up. So whomever gets selected we can be sure deserves it.

Having ended his goal drought on Sunday, Alexandre Lacazette is likely to lead the attack with Eddie Nketiah dropping to the bench.

Mattéo Guendouzi made the flight and could come in the side with Dani Ceballos, who excelled on his return, likely to retain his place with Özil at home.

At the back Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Sead Kolasinac are all in line for recalls, with new signings Pablo Mari also available for selection, while Arteta expect Cédric Soares to step up his recovery in the coming days.


The Gunners are favourites to make it through over two legs. However, with home advantage the Greeks will be tough to beat and if we make more than a few changes to the lineup we could find ourselves in for a long night.

Be that as it may, we can expect a hard-fought and very entertaining game with both sides giving it their all. COYG!


35 comments on “To Olympiakos We Go

  1. Thanks George. I was thinking about last season in the first legs of the last 32 and 16 Emery made wholesale changes and we struggled against Rennes and BATE , leaving us with extra to do in the return legs. If Arteta look back it that I doubt he would risk making make this same mistakes.

    Win the tie in the first leg could be the idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Labo: top work, except you have now got me feeling anxious again!
    I could only listen to the Newcastle game and it seemed pretty frantic stuff until about 25 minutes in when it began to sound as if we had found a measure of control. The second half made for a glorious drive back home – and then to read all about it here and then watch Adrian Clarke’s Breakdown was very heaven.
    As for tonight, is it too much to hope for a classic one nil to The Arsenal, with Lacazette the scorer?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Getting that away goal will be key.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks Labo, should be quite a game.
    The players should be on a bit of a high, but a tough opponent, my bet would be an entertaining Desmond in this one with vital away goals

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks Labo

    Tricky one with Everton now also a HUGE game.
    I suspect Nketiah starting on the weekend was partially some gentle rotation.
    We might see changes in the attack and also with the FBs but otherwise I expect as little disruption as possible.


    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’ll do for now, nice win and clean sheet in a tough place after a tricky start.
    Turns out Arteta was rewarded persisting with Laca .
    Leno impressive
    Must be strange for our boys seeing the opposition booked before AFC players

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Result better than the performance but away in Europe you have to take that.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Some confusion out there over why Sokratis started at RB after Niles’ good spell there in January.

    I’d suggest the former AEK Athens man, a legend there, started against a club he probably grew up not liking very much.

    As our friend Hunter once informed us our opponents tonight are as “liked” like the other “favoured” clubs in other leagues, Utd, Munchen etc. Funny how this well versed and understood topic is beyond your average blagger but regardless:

    Arteta knows


    Liked by 1 person

  9. Just seen that silly Gary Nev interview after Emerys sacking posted on the PA twitter feed.
    Once , we had the Invincibles, now, The Uncoachables


  10. Well I think I can take full credit for both scoreline and scorer. Have only read the match report on the official site but would be interested to know what you all thought of the game as I got to neither see nor hear the game.


  11. foreverheady. Tough game, satisfying win. Opposition were very pumped for it, with a lot of bite and bit of nastiness to their game. Could easily have gone behind early. They were getting some joy down right. Sokratis not getting much help there. Hung in, grew into it. They had to tone it down a bit after couple of deserved cards (now there’s an idea ey, pgmol)

    Nice goal after good work from three players. Auba’s part was exceptional. Saka great cross. Could and prob should have got at least another late on as gaps opened.

    A completely different game to Newc 2nd half, tangible at times how much creativity we were missing with changed line up. Different challenge though. Positive result, positive night.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Another night to underline Xhaka’s importance for me. Could be some chicken and egg to it, but first 20-25 I barely noticed him and- surprise surprise- we struggled badly for control, to get any passing going. In better spells, there he was, heavily involved.

    I’m pleased but not least surprised Arteta knows his importance, though it did have me thinking that if Arteta opts for strongest team in all comps there’s danger of Granit being overused. He looked tired to me at a few points yesterday.

    Issue we have is that Saka is doing so well now and it looks pretty clear that Xhaka is playing massive role in that. So if, for instance, ever did want to rest Xhaka, would take away from Saka too.


  13. I didnt think Xhaka was having a good game by his standards and didnt start influincing the game until the last twenty minutes.
    I understand we were trying to starve them of the ball and keep possession for as long as possible but I thought we were to negative last night. We even was on the edge of their area and still managed to get the ball back to our CBs. We didnt use the width quickly enough and the goal actually showed the oppertunities that were there all game but we didnt use.
    Matteo’s instinct is still to turn backwards at the first chance he has and maybe that was the instruction last night anyway.
    I thought Joe Willock played well and is definitely the nearest thing we have to Aaron and if he can add a few more goals to his game he will become a very good player.


  14. Laca’s message to Saka today – ‘sign the contract’ or similar- suggests it’s a real issue and not just media talk (unless Laca reads papers too and has no more knowledge than us on it)

    Can’t help but worry. Would be horrendous blow. Already it is now precarious whether top talents will even sign scholarships, but if such a talent were to leave despite being given great opportunities and pushed all the way through, as well as the loss of the player it would certainly leave me feeling our plans of promoting from within are jeopardised at every turn, whatever we do.

    It doesn’t help us that Chelsea in the end gave Hudson Odoi 120,000 grand a week, especially not if proposed figure of 30,000 for Saka is right. I rate the former very highly but, quite simply, Saka has done more than him.


  15. Something I’ve wondered about for a while, but it’s awkward territory, is question of why it is overwhelmingly London youngsters trying luck abroad early or even moving clubs here early. Part of that is no doubt concentration of talent in London, and it’s size, plus a lot of clubs, but that doesn’t explain it all.

    Are Londoners a bolder more adventurous lot than your average Brit or is it more about sheer number of talented players there, or are social and economic issues a big factor?

    Guess we have to look at it as our good fortune to be based in a fantastic area for football talent but accept game is changing and it’s a tougher fight to secure that talent now.


  16. Unspectacular but effective.
    Just three observations from last nights game. The substitutions worked once again. Still not sure that Willock is playing in right position and finally I have to mention David Luiz. I was a sceptical about him but under Arteta he has looked in command of the defence. Amazing.
    Cautiously optimistic going forward.


  17. About London youngsters, there is obviously a multitude of reasons and different for each one. London is a multi cultural city and maybe fitting in is easier.
    Tbh as a country England are decades behind others in using all leagues to further career’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Mustafi: “I am still here. I am a player of Arsenal and I’ve got a contract with Arsenal for one and a half more years.”

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Looks like we have Stuart Atwell as ref , and the ever appalling Craig Pawson on VAR tomorrow
    Going to have to beat 13 men, again

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Anyone else ever feel we could do with big striker among options? Thought occurs to me quite a lot, especially when we get in those situations where unable to pass out from back, so delay, and normally end up then hoofing it forward aimlessly or get into precarious situations trying to play.

    Anyway, seen a long shot type at Osei-Tutu’s loan team, Silvere Ganvoula, has shades of Drogba about him. Often up top alone and does well battling numerous cb’s. Looks mobile, fast, strong, great in air and seems able to play as well. Think it often takes big strikers longer than smaller counterparts to really find their game, including Drogba and ole Giroud.

    Not much to suggest we’ll go down that road but I’d hope club having a little look at him while checking on Osei-tutu this year.


  21. VAR just can’t help but help Spurs, this time, with a potential ankle breaker

    Liked by 2 people

  22. The PGMOL say that Spurs Lo Celso escaped red for a stamp, as he had nowhere else to put his foot! Note that was not applied to Auba, at the time, or on appeal.
    Chelsea, usually the beneficiaries of dodgy decision have come up against both Utd and Spurs recently, and have found out where the affections of those running the PGMOL and VAR truly lie. Utd and Spurs second only to Liverpool on such matters

    Liked by 3 people

  23. Wow, Pgmol and Riley being exposed so badly. Only way they can survive this is if their protection from premier league and who knows where else is extremely strong, which, no doubt, it must be.

    Still think Scudamore is likely main power there. Saw his name in connection with recent premier business even though he supposedly stepped aside long time ago and official replacement now in place.


  24. Heard it said previously to refute claims of pgmol bias/wrongdoing- ‘well, they’re not very good at it (being biased)- how can they be in favour of more than one club when those clubs are in direct competition? What about when they play each other?’

    That’s a prime example of how, likewise Maguire this week. 3 game suspensions to key players at this stage of season are a big deal. If Maguire’s was one there should be no escaping from in VAR era, today’s was…phhh, inexplicable doesn’t cover it.

    I’ve no clue what’s behind it all, but the end result seems to be officials simply ‘not wanting’ to make certain decisions at certain times with certain clubs. That’s the truest way to understand it for me. VAR has gone a long way to confirming this is the case. The get out of having a poor view, human limitations, time limitations, etc, has gone, and now they are there, naked so to speak. Probably no coincidence that they are looking more desperate at this business end of the season.

    Liked by 3 people

  25. Completely agree unbelievable decisions today!


  26. Arsenal currently 6pts off 5th placed spurs with a game in hand, win v everton tomorrow and we go 9th, 3pts behind 5th and 7pts off 4th placed chelsea


  27. Amazing. Schalke just lost 0-5 to Leipzig but the way their fans are singing for them after the end of the match. The players have gone over to watch and thank them. What respect. Fantastic motivation from the fans.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Premier League is a joke. I have resorted to watching only Arsenal matches. The quality on offer in other leagues is way ahead. Bundesliga is fantastic. The quality of football and entertainment. Even the refereeing is very good.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Sounds like another bad day for Mike Riley and his unique interpretation of VAR.
    The tackle at Chelsea earlier on, the PGMOL have backtracked, said it should have been a red card. A shame Riley has stopped the refs checking pitchside monitors. And god only knows what they are doing in the VAR room.
    Human error is understandable, but funny how the same teams benefit from these VAR mistakes time and time again. Liverpool, Utd and Spurs.
    Will be interesting to see if Eufa trust the PGMOL refs for the Euros this summer.
    A shame Mike Riley is a protected species, he has not bought through sufficient refs, some seem beyond stale, there is a geographical imbalance, some are unfit, others just plain incompetent, or maybe biased, or something else. Then, look at the mess he has made of VAR. Anywhere else, except maybe Italy a few years ago, Riley would long have had his marching orders

    Liked by 2 people

  30. great to see Daniel Ballard train with the first team today as he continues his comeback from his knee ligament injury that cut his loan at Swindon short


  31. this might make some of us feel old, Arsenal U18’s are due to play Blackburn U18’s in the next round of the FA Youth cup, and in the Blackburn team is D’Margio Wright-Phillips, who is the grandson of Ian Wright


  32. Noticed a curiosity with VAR in question from today. Has reffed 11 prem games so far this year, and 11 last, but to date not done single game with Manchester clubs, Spurs, Pool, Chelsea or us, ie none of usual modern day top 6

    Get the rationale of not giving newer refs huge fixtures initially, but that seems excessive. Would be another factor in why we see same faces too often if takes that long to earn Riley’s trust to do top 6 teams, making a small pool smaller.

    No doubt some enterprising souls get it quicker than that, and learn rapidly how he likes it. For me it is about exerting control. If it was merely about ability, don’t see a good reason all clubs shouldn’t share the risk.


  33. ** Arsenal v Portsmouth: FA Cup match preview **

    Arsenal will be looking to put the disappointment of the Europa League exit behind them as they now turn attention to the FA Cup, playing Portsmouth at Fratton Park in a last-16 encounter.

    The Gunners have done well since Mikel Arteta’s arrival, recently turning promising performances that previously got us draws into decent results. So the task now is to move on from the Olympiakos setback and continue that progression on the domestic front.

    Arsenal, of course, the most successful club in FA Cup history, are favourites to beat the League One side but with the added importance of this now our only shot at silverware, Arteta will certainly try to go all the way. First, we need to get pass Pompey and history suggest we should do just that as they haven’t beaten the Gunners in any competition since March 1958.

    However, Portsmouth will be up for this game and their captain Tom Naylor has also warned that the Fratton Park faithful brings a certain atmosphere we might not be used to.

    Well, while that remain matter of opinion a quick glance at their wiki page tells that they are on a decent run on their own patch; a 19-match unbeaten streak all season, including 10 wins from their 10 games (all competitions). That certainly gives their fans something to crow about.

    They come into this match on the back of a 3-0 win to move within three off the top-two on the League One table, with a match in hand over second-placed Rotherham United. In five home games last month they scored 14 goals with only three in reply. So if anything, we do have to keep our wits about us.

    Team news

    Arteta may have initially been tempted to make wholesale changes, but the Europa result means that he is more likely to name a stronger side.

    Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who instead of given the night off, could play some part, with Eddie Nkeitah still favoured to lead the attack with Gabriel Martinelli up top with him.

    Granit Xhaka played each minute of each game since the turn of the year and do need a breather, with Lucas Torreira given a start.

    Shkodran Mustafi is an injury doubt, so this is a good opportunity to hand Pablo Mari, who have build up his fitness with the u23’s, his debut.


    Portsmouth are on an incredible run, especially in home comforts, and will certainly fancy themselves. So this will be no easy game for Arsenal following the trauma from Thursday night.

    However, Arteta has since done a great job putting his arm around the shoulders of our players, to lift their spirits. So now it is for them to reciprocate that faith he got in them.

    With this a potential banana skin we could be in for an entertaining night, with the Gunners doing just enough to hand Pompey their first home defeat of the season. COYG!

    — @LaboGoon



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