Options Limited, Desired Destination Known & Gabriel for Per change to avoid sucker punch

Arsenal vs Olympiakos

If you have ever played the original Uncharted game (run to the store asap if you haven’t), then you know there are five difficulty settings there: very easy, easy, normal, hard and crushing. The first three correspond to their respective names. On hard things get much trickier and I think there would have been few complaints if “hard” was the toughest setting.

But it isn’t. However to unlock “crushing” you have to first complete the game on “hard”. This is a perfectly understandable requirement, as not even hard can prepare you sufficiently for what comes next.

Being a game geek (at the time), I wanted to complete the game on crushing, however, even the opening scenes (where you are explained the basic controls) proved tough to get through. Once I did, once the tutorial was over, the shit really hit the fan. I was repeatedly slaughtered by simple mercenaries in the early chapters (the game is divided in 22 chapters) and my progress halted. I had to come up with ways at putting myself into minimal danger (i.e. sticking to cover during shoot-outs as much as possible), while also maximising the output (still killing my enemies).

You know what I did? Devised a plan which allowed me to be pretty accurate with my shooting by blind-firing out of cover. I noticed that Drake shoots roughly in the centre of the screen without aiming, so I marked the centre of the screen and placed a sticker exactly above it, dead-in-the-middle. Voilà.

I brought the whole thing up in regards to our Olympiacos game. We seem to be approaching this game on hard, only to find out the game itself will be played on crushing. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen.

In our case “crushing” means pretty much the same it did to be: we have to get to the our destination point (a win by two goals or more) operating within the limitations of a strictly defined system (very few players we can change around) all the while being constantly aware any lapse of concentration can prove costly indeed (i.e. conceding a goal). But, like was the case with completing Drake’s Fortune on crushing, it is doable.

Who said we can’t win away by two goals?

Squad and approach

I’ve skipped the usual “team news” section because there is nothing new to report about. We don’t have any new injuries, no one is coming back, so there you have it.

I also don’t see a lot of sense in the “head-to-head” section, because our record away in Greece, while appaling, is more down to Arsenal qualifying already by that point and playing a bunch of kids/second-string players as a consequence. Moving on.

How we approach the game is a slightly more interesting question. I say “slightly” because Arsene basically laid down what we will do in the presser:

“There is one positive thing for us – we know exactly what we have to do. We know that we have to go for it from the start. So let’s do that and hopefully we can get through. We know what is expected and we have studied Olympiacos”.

While one can make a case that we have a squad more suited to counter-attacking football right now, it seems Wenger won’t play the waiting game. Whether that’s because it’s hard to pick off your opponent twice (at least) inside one game, handing someone the initiative is dangerous or because we may not have the resilience to withstand pressure without Coquelin (or, indeed, all of the above), is not that important. We are unlikely to go this way on Wednesday.

Not as tight defensively without this guy

However, will Olympiacos accept it? From what I’ve seen and heard, they are a side full of attacking-minded players. They may not be willing to hand over the initiative and shut shop. All of this may lead to a fascinating (to a casual observer) battle for the ball in the opening minutes.

However, I’m more than sure the Greeks will opt for the more conservative variant. There are two reasons for them to do that:

  1. We aren’t always very good at picking locks. The chances of us scoring twice against a side that sits deep are well below scoring twice in an end-to-end contest.
  2. We seem to be susceptible to counters recently. Even Sunderland made use of it. I’m sure Olympiacos’ players and manager studied us just as we studied them.

It is something Mesut Ozil is aware of and warns against:

“Olympiacos can play good football and we saw that at the Emirates. They want to play on the counter-attack but we can’t concede goals like we did before again”.

If we assume it’s going to be another game where we have to unlock a defense and avoid conceding on a counter, there is at least one change the manager may consider making: Gabriel for Mertesacker.

In for Mertesacker maybe?

I know I’ve been harping about how the Brazilian should start games for a while now (though I’m not alone here), but I didn’t like one bit how we were left exposed vs Sunderland when Koscielny pushed up. The most notable moment happened in the 3rd minute, when Borini raced through on goal because Kos got tangled up in a duel up front. Anam studies Koscielny’s (and Ramsey’s) risk/reward system of play in-depth here.

If we assume Koscielny has become our Coquelin (for the time being) then pairing him up with someone pacy only makes sense. This way Mert’s lack of pace won’t be exposed and he won’t be asked to cover for both himself and Kos, something he naturally can’t do, especially if we are talking counter-attacks.

Another change I’d propose is Theo for Giroud. The Frenchman has been carrying a heavy burden ever since Theo sustained an injury, which only was made heavier when Alexis limped off against Norwich. The Frenchman has started 7 games in this period (9 in a row if we count in Everton and Sheffield) and has only been subbed off twice if I recall correctly: against Zagreb and this past weekend against Sunderland.

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As someone concisely summed it up, Giroud is becoming negative as a result of being overplayed. In the past couple of games we’ve seen the effects of this: Ollie seemed more interested in arguing with the ref and lying on the ground than in scoring goals and creating chances for others. He clearly needs a break.

Giver this guy a break, he can use it

Will we also see Chambers in place of Flamini? Rumours keep circulating we just might. As far as I know Calum continues to be educated in this mould on the training ground, he completed at least one U21s game in midfield (and Gatting was full of praise for the Englishman) and, finally, we do know Wenger talked him up for that role. Guess we’ll see soon enough.

Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Monreal – Flamini – Ramsey – Ozil – Oxlade – Campbell – Walcott

The verdict

While our chances are pretty slim, I remain optimistic (surprising, I know). We are not in the uncharted territory. It’s not the first time we have to win by several goals to go through. Yes, we haven’t done it before, but then we never needed to win by two goals, the margin was always bigger. We’ve won by two goals in the return leg at least twice in recent history (Bayern, Monaco) and even by three goals (Milan).

Olympiacos is not as good as Bayern, with all due respect, otherwise they wouldn’t have lost both legs by a shedload of goals. And I highly doubt they are as good defensive-wise as Monaco. Which means that our chance, while slim, remains very real.

So come on you Gunners.

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