We are very much in pole position in our Round of 16 Europa League tie as we entertain Olimpiacos at the Emirates tonight.
A (mostly) impressive 3-1 win in the away leg has given us a good cushion and makes us strong favourites to progress to the last eight.
Mikel Arteta will be tempted to rest some players who have clocked up a lot of minutes this season, including Saka (who exited the North London Derby early with some muscle concerns), Smith Rowe, Partey and Xhaka.
However, our struggles in the Premier League have made our European campaign of paramount importance and I suspect El Patron will start with a strong team and hope to take players off from early in the second half provided we haven’t run into trouble.
If we do run into trouble, recent form indicates that it will be probably be self-inflicted. That was certainly the case in the first leg of this tie, when a badly chosen pass from Leno was followed by some prime doziness on the part of Ceballos to allow the Greeks to score.
If you recall, we did our best to help out our opponents on two other occasions in that game (one lazy pass from Odegaard and one Luiz blunder in the box) but fortunately we were not punished and we finished the game very strongly.
In general our play has ranged between decent and very, very good since we beat Chelsea in December and most of our dropped points have come from self inflicted wounds.
Still, the win over Totteringham showed that we can get through a tough game without shooting ourselves in the foot. Now we need the same level of focus for this match.
I don’t want to get carried away when there is such a long way to go in the EL but, my goodness, what an end to the season it would be if we clinched that title: a trophy and a berth in next season’s Champions League. It would have a huge transformational effect on our progress.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
According to the club all our players are fit (well done to the medical and physio team!), although Saka will be monitored closely between now and kick-off and seems unlikely to be risked. To be honest the lad needs a break anyway.
I would like to see Martinelli get a start but… there’s Willian… and Arteta seems to love picking Willian despite the fact we can all see that he offers less than pretty much any of the alternatives so…
Here’s the line-up I’m expecting (although I wouldn’t be laying out any money on the accuracy of my prediction for this one):
Bellerin – Holding – Mari – Tierney
Xhaka – Partey
Pepe – Odegaard – Willian
The Greeks were pretty poor for most of the first leg and provided we leave the clown car in the garage we should be on course for a comfortable evening.
Famous last words and all that.
Come On You Gunners!