Arsenal face a huge task to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages, Petr Cech should start all the marquee fixtures, Per Mertesacker is Arsenal’s third-choice centre-back and other things we learned from Arsenal 2 Olympiakos 3.
Rotating goalkeepers is a risky businsess
Why was Petr Cech not playing? It looked a mystifying decision before kick-off, and even more baffling when stand-in David Ospina got his bearings wrong for the second Olympiakos goal and inexplicably patted the ball done and towards his own net. The fifth official behind he goal indicated the ball was over the line before Arsenal hacked it away but the replays seemed to suggest that was not the case. Whatever the merits of the absence of goal-line technology in Champions League matches, it was a horrible mistake by Ospina. Resting Cech for a second consecutive European night had immediately rebounded on Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal boss has been at the forefront of the growing trend to rotate goalkeepers – and with some success in consecutive FA Cup triumphs – but relegating his No1 for a match Arsenal had to win backfired horribly.
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Arsenal will have to beat Bayern at least once
With home and away matches against Bayern Munich to come on matchdays three and four, Wenger’s team face an uphill task to clinch second place in Group F. Pep Guardiola’s team annihilated Dinamo Zagreb, conquerors of Arsenal a fortnight ago, 5-0 tonight to follow their opening-day 3-0 victory at Olympiakos and can already be inked in for top spot. The best Arsenal can hope for is to join the German giants in the Champions League last-16 draw. However, even if Arsenal overcome Dinamo at home, to give themselves hope when they travel to Olympiakos on 9 December,they must beat Bayern at least once to secure the nine points that usually guarantees a runners-up group spot. Not an impossible task, but a mighty difficult one.
Mertesacker is Arsenal’s third-choice centre-back
If it had not already become clear over the last month, final proof arrived in the shape of the team-sheet one hour before kick-off. Gabriel is now the second-choice centre-back at Arsenal and Wenger’s preferred partner for Laurent Koscielny. Per Mertesacker, the fans’ favourite who has been an emblem of the team in recent season, dropped back to the bench after returning to the team against Leicester on Saturday, when the Brazilian served a one-match suspension. The giant German replaced Koscielny at the 57-minute mark when he appeared to strain his hamstring but it appears as if Mertesacker will have to get used to his lower place in the pecking order if the Frenchman’s injury is a minor one.
Wenger has half an eye on Manchester United
For the second consecutive Champions League match, Wenger did not select his strongest team. Cech, Aaron Ramsey and Nacho Monreal, who have started all seven of Arsenal’s Premier League fixtures this season, were all on the bench. Against Dinamo on matchday one, Cech, Ramsey, Monreal, Francis Coquelin and Hector Bellerin were all left out. This is quite a departure for Wenger, who usually selects his strongest team for early Champions League group matches and tends not to rotate in the early autumn. Has one of the most stubborn leopards of all changed his spots? With all of the big English teams looking fallible, does Wenger regard winning the Premier League as a greater possibility than dominating Europe? His selection tonight clearly had half an eye on Sunday’s home match against leaders Manchester United.
Santi Cazorla should be dropped
This is not the Cazorla of last season, the one who dropped back into central midfield in January and looked like he had been born to partner Coquelin. Not for the first time this season, the little Spaniard was unconvincing. He struggled to cope in the centre with the raw power of Olympiakos and even his passing lacked its usual effectiveness. It is high time Cazorla was dropped, or pushed forward into the No10 role, and Ramsey was deployed alongside Coquelin.