With Olympiacos the visitors to north London tonight, it’s perhaps good that last night saw a couple of unexpected results in the Champions League. One of the great truisms of Champions League football is that Greek sides don’t travel well. This is amply borne out by Olympiacos record of having scored one goal, and conceded twenty nine in nine matches in this country. However, as we saw last night, with Swiss side FC Basel overturning a two goal deficit to come within an Ashley Young equaliser of taking all three points from Old Trafford, nothing can be taken for granted. I won’t even mention the fact that Moneybags City got beaten 2-0 by a side that finished below Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga last season.
Or how funny the Carlos Tevez situation is.
I said “we saw” last night, but I didn’t see anything yesterday as I was catching up with “Celebrity” Masterchef and season 2 of the excellent Justified. Had I known what hilarity was unfolding in Munich last night, I may well have watched. There’s no danger, pending a post work trip to wish Jo’s auntie Sue happy birthday, of me missing out tonight. No, not when the boys in red and white are in action and looking for a third home win in eight days.
Already, we see the benefit of paying to add Per Mertesacker to the squad this summer, rather than waiting for a freebie next year. Without him, we would likely be having to field a back line of Alex Song and Ignasi Miquel. One, as you know, is a holding midfielder, the other a very young centreback. And this would be the very definition of makeshift. As it is, Song can slip into the backline alongside Mertesacker and things don’t actually seem that bad. Especially as both Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin are in the process of being integrated into the first team squad. I can’t remember the last time we were missing four of our five recognised first team centre backs, but I’m not as worried tonight as I would normally be. Perhaps I’ve got that terrible away record of Olympiacos in mind..
Ahead of the defence, the choices would appear straight forward. Assuming that Arsene doesn’t go for both Coquelin and Frimpong (and why would he?), I reckon Frimpong will get the nod and line up behind Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky. Or is that what I hope? This blog is a big fan of Aaron Ramsey, but I’d rather we kept his powder dry for Sunday afternoon at the Lane. There’s no sense in overdoing it with him, and I reckon the Rozzer is more suited to European nights than the harum-scarum of an afternoon in Tottenham.
On Ramsey, it’s funny how quickly people forget that, coming up to two years ago, he was making great strides in the Arsenal first team. Ok, so he was alongside the now departed Cesc, as well as Alex Song, and suffered that horrendous injury when Shawcross comminuted (my new word for the day) the bones in his leg. Jack Wilshere, the man who would now be our midfield saviour if he wasn’t currently on a treatment table somwwhere , was on loan at Bolton back then. So, what we’ve got now is simply what we had 2 years back. Well, it is if you squint at Arteta enough to make him look like Cesc. Which he does, a little bit.
Ahead of them… well, we’ve got options. Even in the absence of “unlucky” Theo and Gervinho. If we weren’t without both of them, I’d like to have seen van Persie also rested for Sunday, but I don’t think we can risk it. Especially not with our almost makeshift defence. So van Persie to start is a no brainer, Arshavin on side is yet another one. The question is who takes the other spot? The startled deer that is Marouane Chamakh, the almost total unknown who is Ju-Young Park, or one of the bright new things- Miyaichi or Oxlade-Chamberlain? The almost total absence of Park in a matchday squad that matters since signing suggests that tonight will not be his night. Likewise, Chamakh seems to be destined for a role as RvP’s “stuntman”, ©Perry Groves, and he can’t fulfill that if he starts. So, by a process of elimination, I reckon that the boy who so thrilled the home crowd last Tuesday night, will be given another opportunity to do so tonight. Yes, I’m hoping to see the Ox unleashed on an unsuspecting Olympiacos.
Of course, there is another way, which is Ramsey keeping his place in central midfield and Rosicky moving into one of the more attacking slots, but I think that would be a retrograde, not to say almost pointless pick. Rosicky has, by and large, ceased to contribute anything of note from a position in the attacking three for some time now. In other words, he’s had his time, let’s what Oxlade-Chamberlain is made of.
A win tonight, which- even allowing for the inexplicable results suffered by the great untouchables of Manchester last night- has to be expected would be another brick in the wall as we… no, I’m not going not going any further with that metaphor. I don’t like Pink Floyd enough. Suffice to say, the point we got in Dortmund a couple of weeks back was, on the face of it, a good point. But it will only be a good point if we can back it up with wins on our home ground, which is something of a European fortress. No side visiting from the continent has won at Ashburton Grove yet. Whilst it’s not unreasonable to expect that that record will go at some point, I don’t think it will be tonight.