It was close, but Arsenal managed to get into the Europa League last 16 two weeks ago with a big win over Benfica and they will now take on the old rivals Olympiacos for a place in the quarter-finals.
The Gunners drew the first leg with the Portuguese giants 1-1, before beating Benfica in the return leg despite leaving it very late to do so. It took late goals from Kieran Tierney and captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to seal progression for Mikel Arteta’s side and keep their season alive beyond February.
They’ll now take on Greek side Olympiacos for the sixth time in the last six years and they’ll look to exact revenge after they were knocked out of the competition last season by them.
The Gunners’ league form has been shocking this season, with Arteta’s side winning just 11 of their 27 league games so far and finding themselves in 10th place in the table.
Their European campaign has certainly been better for them this season, as they won six out of six in the group stages and then avoided defeat in both legs against Benfica to get here. Arteta’s team selections against Benfica suggest that he is planning on taking this tournament very seriously, going at what many would consider to be full strength in both legs.
If that is to continue here, you would expect them to be too much for Olympiacos but many said that last season too.
The Greek side crashed out of the Champions League at the group stages after five defeats from six games in a group containing runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City. They met Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven in the last 32 round and came away with a 4-2 home win before losing the second leg 2-1 to come away with a 5-4 aggregate win.
Their preferred 4-2-3-1 system is likely to match up with the Gunners as wingers Bruma and Mathieu Valbuena provide the majority of the creativity and spark to the side while former Arsenal target Yann M’Vila sits in midfield to help break up play.
Arsenal will take encouragement from the fact that defensively Olympiacos aren’t the strongest, but they have got it in them. Domestically, they have conceded only 12 goals from 25 league games and been beaten just once to top the table by 16 points ahead of their closest competitors.
Despite that, Arsenal seem to have been able to unlock defences more often that not in Europe and will have confidence as the better team on paper that they can get a result.
They will learn from last year’s games surely and with the fact that winning the competition is their only realistic route into European football next season, they know it’s all or nothing. The extra quality they have on the pitch will be enough to see them progress into the quarter-finals and get their revenge.
Olympiacos 0-1 Arsenal
Arsenal 2-1 Olympiacos
(Arsenal progress 3-1 on aggregate)