There’s nothing quite like a rematch to get the blood pumping. We don’t need to be reminded of last season’s disastrous loss at the Emirates to Greek side Olympiakos in the second leg of the round of 32 in the Europa League, but it was a difficult one to forget. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s individual brilliance with a late overhead kick had fans soaring until hope was dashed as the defense fell asleep almost immediately, giving up an extra time winner at the Emirates that put Olympiacos through on away goals. It was calamitous, heartbreaking, and brutal - an oddly poetic precursor to the remainder of 2020.
You have to imagine that the players are carrying a sizable chip on their shoulders as they head into the first leg of the round of 16 against the same team that eliminated them last year. Mikel Arteta’s tenure was barely underway when Arsenal were defeated at home just over a year ago by Olympiacos. I would not be surprised if he comes into this match with a point to prove, especially with the financial importance of European football next season for a club that has been hemmoraghing cash since the pandemic started.
With the North London Derby just three days away and the home leg of the round of 16 next Thursday, Arsenal will want to score early and often in order to rotate players and keep them fresh. The Gunners have struggled recently to put teams to bed after dominating early in the match, misfiring multiple times in a draw against Burnley. They have also let teams fight their way back into matches, having given Benfica a lifeline in the round of 32 before a late winner by Aubameyang eked Arsenal past their opponents at the death. With away goals proving so valuable, Arsenal will not want to waste opportunities today, given the circumstances.
Despite the recent roster turnover, Arsenal will likely field many of the same players from last year’s match-up, but they will face one as well - defender Sokratis, who subbed on for Arsenal in last season’s defeat at the Emirates, joined Olympiacos in the winter transfer window. Who knows if there is an advantage to be gained from our attackers knowing his strengths and weaknesses or vice versa, but that will certainly be an intriguing match-up.
Arsenal have to win this match, and they need to do so convincingly. A top 4 spot is all but a pipe dream now, so the Europa League will be the Gunners best bet at European football next season - a sadly familiar story line for Arsenal in recent years.
Get the goals, get the win, get going Gunners.
WHAT: Arsenal at Olympiacos
WHERE: Karaiskaki Stadium, Piraeus, Greece
WHEN: Thursday, March 11th 12:00PM PT | 3:00PM ET | 8:00PM BST
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