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Arsenal vs. Olympiacos preview: European dreams

The Gunners resume their Europa League campaign.

Ahead of Olympiacos v Arsenal - UEFA Europa League
Sokratis has been relegated to the bench lately.
Photo by Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Presumably riding high from the weekend’s 4-0 drubbing of Newcastle, Arsenal travel to Greece on Thursday for a Europa League Round of 32 tie with Olympiacos. The Greek side finished third in its Champions League group that included Bayern Munich, Tottenham, and Red Star Belgrade. Olympiacos went 1-1-4, scoring 8 and conceding 14. They’re currently 1st in the Greek Super League, two points ahead of PAOK. Notably, Olympiacos has only conceded 9 goals in 24 league matches.

Olympiacos’ chief scoring threat is forward Youssef El-Arabi, who has 20 goals in 29 appearances in all competitions. Portuguese international Ruben Semedo is a key midfield piece, and you might also recognize former French international Mathieu Valbuena, who joined Olympiacos in the summer.

The two clubs have met eight times in their history, all in the Champions League group stage. Each have won four times. Most recently in December 2015, the Gunners needed an Olivier Giroud hat-trick and a 3-0 away victory to ensure they qualified for the knockout stages of the CL.

Arsenal are without the usual long-term injured players: Cedric Soares, Kieran Tierney, and Calum Chambers. Mesut Ozil did not travel with the team because his wife is giving birth. Lucas Torreira stayed behind with an illness but could travel at the last minute if his condition improves. Matteo Guendouzi, training ground dispute with Mikel Arteta hopefully behind him, is with the team as is new loanee Pablo Mari.

The home side will be without winger Hillal Soudani, who is out for the season with a knee injury. They also sold regulars Daniel Podence and Yassine Meriah in the January window, so they’ll be adapting to the change in lineup/rotation.

It looks as if Mikel Arteta will use a full-strength side on Thursday night, which makes sense. But with 5th place in the table now a Champions League spot and the Gunners only seven points off, there will come a time when Arteta might have to start prioritizing one competition over the other. On paper, Arsenal should get through the tie with Olympiacos. The Gunners’ next five Premier League matches are eminently winnable. In a few weeks, we’ll have a much better picture of where Arteta should focus his resources.

Olympiacos is a difficult place to play — their ground is known for being a particularly hostile environment. A draw would be a fine result, and an away goal would be fantastic.

WHAT: Arsenal at Olympiacos
WHERE: Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus, Greece
WHEN: Thursday, February 20th 12 PM PT | 3 PM ET | 8 PM BST
US TV: Galavision (SP). Streaming on B/R Live ($$$).

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