see you this weekend. Get some rest. - Richard Heathcote
Arsene Wenger rings in the changes for a meaningless fixture. Let's try to preview it, shall we?
Olympiacos vs. Arsenal
Tuesday, December 4, 2:45 PM EST/11.45AM PST
Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus, Greece
Form (all competitions): OLY WLDWW | ARS WWDDL
TV: FoxSoccer2Go (live, subscription-only), Fox Soccer Channel (delayed, 7PM East/4PM West)
With qualification for the last 16 assured for the 14th straight season, and with a squad severely exhausted from either not having any backups or from not using the backups available (WE WANT MORE MEERKAT!), Arsenal travel to Greece to play their last Champions League group stage game against the reigning Greek champions. This game means nothing - Arsenal and Schalke are through, and while winning the group would be nice, I guess, it doesn't really mean anything (yes, I know, seeding, but given that if Arsenal win their first knockout stage game seedings are irrelevant anyway, it really doesn't matter).
Given this existential crisis (NOTHING MEANS ANYTHING!), Arsene Wenger has wisely decided to leave a lot of the names you're used to seeing every week at home, with their feet up in front of the TV, drinking a nice cup of tea and watching the next generation. Who is that next generation, you ask? Well, apart from some names you're familiar with (Ox, Vermaelen, Ramsey, Gervinho), you'll see a lot of names that don't ring a lot of bells (Martin Angha, Zak Ansah, Sead Hajrovic, Jernade Meade).
This is good news. We all know what we saw at the weekend - a very, very tired squad that needed a rest, and for a long time Arsene hasn't seen fit to give anybody said rest. Now he has, and as such this game has the look and feel of a Futures game. Because I don't know a lot about these guys, for the most part, I'm not even going to try to predict who is going to play, start, or come off the bench, or what sort of formation will be used; all I will say is that I'm glad the regulars are getting the night off.
On the other side of the ball, we have Olympiacos, who are currently undefeated in the Greek Super League, 10 points clear of second-placed PAOK. Their last game was a 2-1 win over Platanias, in which Djammel Abdoun and Vasilios Torosidis scored in a relatively comfortable-sounding win. Whether the Greeks will field a full-strength side is unknown at this point; they have a derby against Panathinaikos at the weekend, and the coaches have been somewhat cagey about their strategy for tomorrow, saying only "we have all the players at our disposal and we will try to find the suitable solutions, so that we can play like we should tomorrow. We’ll see what the final choice will be."
So, while I would love to get all tactical on you, all I can really do here is list out Olympiacos' lineup from the weekend and Arsenal's announced 18:
Olympiacos, 12/1/12: Carroll, Torosidis, Cholevas, Manolas, Siovas, Modesto, Maniatis (75’ Greco), Ibagaza, Abdoun, Fuster (84΄ Vlachodimos), Mitroglou (65’ Djebbour)
Arsenal's announced travel squad: Szczesny, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Squillaci, Coquelin, Arshavin, Jenkinson, Gervinho, Chamakh, Martin Angha, Zak Ansah, Sead Hajrovic, Jernade Meade, Elton Monteiro, James Shea, Chuba Akpom
PREDICTION: In a crazy mixup that might cost someone in the Arsenal coaching staff their job, the team end up watching this instead of game film at the hotel in the pre-game meeting, and thus come out on the pitch all reflective and thoughtful. Olympiacos score three while Arsenal struggle to understand the true meaning of the Allegory of the Cave; it takes Arsenal until the 75th minute to realize that life is not just an illusion, but is in fact something they can control. an Arshavin hat-trick later, the game is tied, and Aaron Ramsey seals the three points at the death.