To suggest that Thursday’s game against Olympiacos is the biggest of our season so far I think is a fair assessment. Domestically we’ve had a poor season and whilst it’s one that wasn’t entirely unexpected, 10th place isn’t good enough for Arsenal Football Club. Yes – we’re building. Yes – it’s a process. Yes – Arteta is starting to get results. But getting there was painful. We’re out of both domestic cups and all but out of the race for the top 4. Thursday’s match in Athens has a huge bearing on how we judge this season.
Our record against Olympiacos couldn’t be any more nip and tuck. As it stands we’ve played them a staggering 10 times since 2009: won 5, lost 5. The most recent being a 2-1 home defeat that saw us crash out on away goals last year just before the world went to shit. Avoiding a repeat this year is paramount. Once again we go away first, back to a city that our players are all too familiar with. But this Olympiacos side will be a different test entirely to Benfica and we made a meal of that one too!
Olympiacos have already won the Greek Superleague sitting 16 points clear with one game left in their domestic season. They will prove to be a tough opponent, I have no doubts there but when I look at our squad we have more than enough to overcome them. That said Arteta has a selection dilemma. Despite this two legged tie being the most important of our season, sandwiched in the middle on Sunday is of course the North London Derby. And after being well beaten at the cock bowl earlier in the season we’ll be looking for some revenge.
Quality in depth is something that we don’t really have aside from a few areas. I can’t remember the last time Xhaka didn’t play and despite his weekend error, he’s been one of our better players this season, mainly alongside the injury hit Partey. Along with that we run the risk of playing the likes of Saka and ESR into the ground if we aren’t careful. They’ve been such a bright spark for us this year but they need to be managed carefully. It’s certainly one that Arteta will have to give careful thought to.
I don’t want to be overly dramatic but any marker of success this season hinges on the Europa League and therefore on us beating Olympiacos over the next week and a bit. In the absence of being confident I’ll say I’m quietly optimistic.