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Olympiakos vs. Arsenal: match preview

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Olympiakos Piraeus vs. Arsenal
2:45 PM EST Kickoff
Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus, the port of Athens, Greece
TV Coverage: Fox Soccer Plus, (for subscribers)
Form: Olym DWLWW | Arsenal WWDLW

Arsenal will coast to their UEFA Champions League Group F conclusion tomorrow, having already secured the top finishing spot, when they visit Olympiakos in Greece. The Greek Superleague champions currently sit third in the group on six points, one behind Marseille, and two ahead of BvB Dortmund. Any one of those three could still qualify; if Marseille win at the Signal Iduna in Dortmund (a tough prospect), they will take second; if Dortmund win by a LOT (like seven) and Olympiakos draw or lose, BvB can still qualify. If Olympiakos win, they'll need BvB to keep Marseille from victory to make it through.

The fact that Arsenal have qualified with the top spot already allows them the same luxury they had two years ago in this exact same fixture; they can put out a squad of second-stringers and fringe players who need some tick and give them a chance to shine. Follow us after the jump to find out just who Arsène Wenger is flying over to the birthplace of Western Civilization.

The squad, as taken from the official website:

Andrey Arshavin
Yossi Benayoun
Marouane Chamakh
Francis Coquelin
Johan Djourou
Craig Eastmond
Lukasz Fabianski
Emmanuel Frimpong
Vito Mannone
Ignasi Miquel
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Oguzhan Ozyakup
Ju Young Park
Tomas Rosicky
Andre Santos
Sebastien Squillaci
Thomas Vermaelen
Nico Yennaris

There are a number of first XI regulars not on the plane, of course. Of those going, there are a number who probably could use rest anyway (Vermaelen, Santos, and perhaps Djourou, although someone's got to start at center half). It seems likely that Wenger will want to do what he did two years ago and give a nod to some players who have never featured on the European stage to see what they can do. Given that, a probable lineup would look something like this:

Arsenal (4-3-3): Fabianski; Yennaris, Djourou, Squillaci, Miquel; Frimpong, Coquelin, Ozyakup; Benayoun, Chamakh, Chamberlain.

Subs: Mannone, Eastmond, Santos, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Arshavin, Park.

It is possible that Arshavin could start instead of Benayoun or Ozyakup, but Wenger may be more interested in using the young Dutchman, as he has had quite a good run in the reserves and could be on the fringe of being a squad player. Arshavin is a known quantity at this point, though, and the manager may want to see if he can build up some confidence again given a free role in the middle behind Chamakh. If Wenger does decide to start Arshavin, Park may slot in front instead of Chamakh, as he and the Russian paired up well against Bolton in the Carling Cup. I'm wary of Rosicky's health at this point, but he could fit in anywhere in the front four, or maybe even as a deep-lying playmaker, although that seems highly unlikely.

Chamberlain, well, he's just a must-start at this point whenever possible. He seems to grow a little with every match he plays for the first team, and he's fun to watch, so I decree it.

Whomever Wenger decides to start, though, will face a stern test, and no mistake. The Erythrolefki will be desperate to win, of course, and will no doubt field their strongest possible side in front of a churning home crowd. Balasz Megyeri should get the nod in goal behind Swedish Destroyer Olof Mellberg and Avram Papadopoulos. Nifty right back Vasilis Torosidis should offer some attacking play on that flank. Belgian front man Kevin Mirallas will try to link up with winger David Fuster and strike partner/no. 10 Rafik Djebbour (unless compatriot Vermaelen spikes his chocolate the night before--that's what Belgians do as jokes, right?). Villa loanee Jean Makoun could also feature in midfield.

Prediction: Thomas Vermaelen, despite not starting, does indeed play his part, lacing Mirallas' chocolate with an equilibrium-damaging pharmaceutical the night before the match. Mirallas stumbles from the opening kickoff and his first three shots go wide of the corner flag. Arsenal open the scoring through a Chamberlain-Benayoun 1-2, the former burying a shot from 10 yards. The game stagnates until a late equalizer from Djebbour on a scramble in the box seals a shot at qualification for the Greeks. Mellberg tells Mirallas to concentrate his appetite on his homemade meatballs next time; Mirallas hugs Mellberg around the head and tells him that there's no need to lie, as he knows that they're store-bought from IKEA.