Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger and his side are at home to Olympiacos in the Champions League on Wednesday so, to find out more, tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Dionisis Verveles gave their pre-match views.
It’s only a year since Olympiacos last visited the Emirates for a Champions League encounter, but this is a very different team - it’s likely that only five of last year’s starting XI will begin this match.
That’s partly because of a change in coach - Spaniard Ernesto Valverde departed in the summer due to personal reasons after a successful second spell at the club, and was replaced by Leonardo Jardim. The Portuguese coach worked wonders with Braga last season, taking the club to 15 consecutive wins and mounting a serious title challenge. He’s brought a similar approach to Olympiacos, preferring a 4-2-3-1 formation featuring attack-minded full-backs, cautious central midfielders, direct wingers and a striker who roams the channels on the break.
The main goal threat is Algeria’s Rafik Djebbour, who has something of the Thierry Henry about him, at least in a positional sense. Rather than staying in central striking position, Djebbour likes to pull out towards the flanks - although generally towards the right, rather than Henry’s preference for the left. He makes runs into the zone between opposition centre back and full back, and has become a specialist at finishing from tight angles, as he demonstrated with a goal in Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat in Athens last year. Arsenal’s full backs must remain narrow to minimise the space he has to work in.
Last season at the Emirates Ariel Ibagaza set up fellow playmaker David Fuster for the Greek side’s goal, but Jardim has chosen between them in the attacking midfield role so far this season, with Ibagaza favoured in the Greek league but Fuster starting the 2-1 defeat to Schalke. Ibagaza is the better technician and at 35, now plays a calm, reserved passing role in the centre, while Fuster plays higher up the pitch, closer to Djebbour.
Djamel Abdoun is a direct winger on the right, charging towards goal and attempting to combine with fellow Algerian Djebbour. On the other side, Portuguese winger Paulo Machado is noticeably very right-footed, always looking to come inside.
Jardim likes to play with two holding midfielders. Francois Modesto rarely strays from a central position and will attempt to pick up Santi Cazorla, while Ljubomir Fejsa provides more energy and should start alongside him to the left.
Greek internationals Ioannis Maniatis and Jose Holebas will play right back and left back respectively, and both overlap quickly when the Greek champions enjoy a decent spell of possession. Holebas is more attacking but can remain too high up the pitch, leaving spaces behind him for the opposition to break into.
Jardim’s team selection this season has been very consistent, but he has a decent squad to choose from. Former Roma box-to-box midfielder Leandro Greco could be a more defensive alternative in any of the three attacking positions, left-footed goal poacher Konstantinos Mitroglou and veteran Marko Pantelic represent a decent plan B, while 21-year-old, 5’4 Ioannis Fetfatzidis, an exciting dribbler, is inevitably tagged as the ‘Greek Messi’ and would be a dangerous late supersub.
I think it will be a hard game for Olympiacos because Arsenal are a very good opponent. Every match in the Champions League is hard for Olympiacos - and they haven’t got a good record in England. They have been very successful domestically but find it harder in Europe. They must fight, but it will be very difficult for them.
Jardim has not yet announced who will be in goal. He has said that Roy Carroll will play in the Greek Super League, and that Balazs Megyeri will be his goalkeeper for the Champions League. Megyeri played in the opening game against Schalke. This could change at the Emirates though, because Jardim feels Carroll has more experience against English clubs.
I would say Djebbour is the danger man, but he is injured. I believe that the important player now is Ibagaza. He can keep the ball well and has good vision. Olympiacos will need to keep the ball as much as possible, and Ibagaza will need to dictate play.
Olympiacos have problems in the defence because there are a lot of new players. Konstantinos Manolas and Pablo Contreras signed in summer and have not really had a chance to build a partnership. I believe that Arsenal will win 2-1 or 3-1.Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source