Football Features

Arsenal vs Olympiacos: Gunners can capitalise on Pedro Martins’ ‘big game mentality’

By Ben Green

Published: 18:10, 16 December 2019

Arsenal have been drawn against Champions League dropouts Olympiacos in the Europa League last-32. 

The Greek outfit secured their place in Europe’s secondary knockout competition after beating Red Star Belgrade in a straight shootout on the final matchweek of the Champions League group stages.

The Gunners managed to avoid some big names in Monday morning’s draw in Switzerland, including Roma, Bayer Leverkusen and Sporting Lisbon, but two legs against Olympiacos will be anything but a straightforward task.

Tottenham Hotspur have already faced Olympiacos in the Champions League this campaign, and they proved an exceptionally tricky customer, scoring four goals in two matches as well as clinching a defiant 2-2 draw in Athens.

Pedro Martins’ side will now be returning to the capital in England, hoping to pull off another big result against one of the Premier League’s powerhouse clubs. But, what can Arsenal be expecting from their Greek counterparts?

Here is everything you need to know about Arsenal vs Olympiacos in the Europa League last-32.

When is Arsenal vs Olympiacos?

Arsenal won their group, meaning they entered the pots in Nyon as a seeded club and hence, will play host for the return fixture at the Emirates on February 27. But, before that, they must first travel to Athens to play Olympiacos at the Karaiskakis Stadium on February 20.

Kick-off times are yet to be decided but Europa League matches usually begin at either 8:00 PM or 5:55 PM GMT.

Arsenal’s Premier League fixtures either side of Olympiacos clash

08/02/20: Newcastle (h)

20/02/20: Olympiacos (a) 

22/02/20: Everton (h)

27/02/20: Olympiacos (h)

29/02/20: Man City (a)

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Olympiacos strengths and weaknesses

Strengths

  • Olympiacos tend to approach big matches without fear, going toe-to-toe – at times – with the likes of Bayern Munich and Spurs in the Champions League. While this may have left them susceptible and rather open at the back, they did manage to score twice against the German giants, and four times against Spurs. And so, this will be where Olympiacos could potentially thrive; with the likes of Mathieu Valbuena unlocking doors and Youssef El-Arabi spearheading the attack, Martins’ side can capitalise on an exceptionally frail defence in the form of Arsenal’s.
  • Martins may espouse a more offensive breed of football, but Olympiacos certainly weren’t afraid to get their shorts muddy in the UCL group stages. In fact, the Greek club won the sixth-most duels (341) during their sojourn in Europe’s elite competition this term, sitting just two below perennial workhorses Atletico Madrid. Against the likes of Matteo Guendouzi and Mesut Ozil, Martins may feel his side can ruffle a few feathers and disrupts Arsenal’s flow.

Weaknesses

  • As mentioned, Olympiacos have a penchant for approaching matches with a more attack-minded mentality, and naturally this leads to more open space in their own half, which Arsenal can look to exploit with the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe. They conceded the second-most goals of any Champions League club in the group stages (14), so the message from whoever is in the Arsenal dugout come February will surely be to play on the front foot and exert pressure high up the pitch.
  • Should Arsenal follow the above blueprint and look to unsettle Olympiacos’ defence then they should be able to profit exceptionally well, as Martins’ side have been guilty of numerous errors in the UCL this season. They conceded the fourth-most errors leading to shots (5) of any club in the group stages, with two of those also leading to goals. If Arsenal can close down the opposition defenders with tempo, play with an intensity that was sorely lacking against Man City on Sunday, and transition between the lines with more rhythm and flair, then Olympiacos could falter.   

Prediction

This will be a tighter contest than most will be predicting; that is, if this current incarnation of Arsenal pitch up in Athens. There is no telling who will be in the dugout come the first leg, or whether the club’s top brass will spend in January.

For all we know, Arsenal could be a completely different beast when they travel across the continent. But, assuming not much changes both in the technical area and on the pitch – which seems highly likely –  then Olympiacos will certainly fancy their chances.

Spurs and Bayern will tell you that this is not a side to take lightly. They are flying high on domestic soil and enter this fixture off the back of an extraordinary win on the final day of the group stages – confidence will be high in the dressing room, and on the terraces.

That said, Arsenal, for all their vulnerabilities and woes in recent weeks, still boast a squad crammed with elite talent, particularly up-top, while Olympiacos as mentioned, aren’t the best defensively. Of course, the same can be said of Arsenal, so this will probably be a tactical-chalkboards-out-of-the-window contest, with each side neglecting their defensive duties and looking to outscore one another.

With the likes of Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Pepe on the books, Arsenal should be able to outscore their Southeast European counterparts and secure a place in the last-16 – Arsenal to progress. 

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