Monday, December 11, 2023

Olympiacos preview and news turn-around up

Morning to you.

Let’s start with tonight’s Champions League game against Olympiacos. They’re becoming familiar opponents as this is the third year in the last four we’ve drawn them in the group stages and we’ve got a good record at home, winning both games. Last year Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andre Santos got the goals in a 2-1 win, the previous season Andrei Arshavin and some Dutch Skunk got both in a 2-0 triumph.

In terms of team news tonight there’s a real doubt over Mikel Arteta who has an ankle problem and will face a late fitness test. If there’s any doubt about him we should err on the side of caution with a tricky enough game coming up this weekend at West Ham. We know Abou Diaby is out for around three weeks with a thigh strain, and while I understand the manager having a little pop at France for calling him earlier in the season, the reality is that injuries and Diaby are just inseparable, sadly.

It means quite a shuffling around if both players are missing but that’s part and parcel of the game and it’s up to those who come in to make sure they’re not missed as badly as we might fear. At the back I don’t see Laurent Koscielny continuing after his Chelsea horrors, and up front I really think we need to start giving Olivier Giroud a run of games. I know Gervinho is scoring and obviously he’s added end product to our game but Giroud looks like a guy who needs a few games to really find his feet.

So, if it were me, we’d line-up: Mannone – Jenkinson – Mertesacker – Vermaelen – Gibbs – Coquelin – Ramsey – Cazorla – Podolski – Gervinho – Giroud

There are other options too for midfield and up front and I’d imagine Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is very much in the manager’s thoughts in both cases, although I don’t see any change in his stance with Theo Walcott who will most likely find himself on the bench again. As for our opponents, we know they’re not an easy side to play against as two away defeats prove (albeit under not quite normal circumstances in both cases), but at home you have to think we’re strong enough to take three points tonight.

While much of the focus will be on cutting out the mistakes at the back, the chances we missed on Saturday against Chelsea still rankle and with better finishing we wouldn’t have lost that game. So defensive improvement is necessary, with Carl Jenkinson speaking of the need to improve at set-pieces in yesterday’s press conference, but when the chances are made up the other end we’ve got to take them. I love Santi Cazorla (pronounced ‘Cathorla’ by the Spanish TV crew yesterday, just saying …*cough* …) but some improved accuracy from him would help matters.

Lukas Podolski has had a quiet couple of games too so it’d be nice to see him step it up again, and of course the aforementioned Giroud could obviously use a goal, or two, and play himself into the reckoning. And look, if the midfield wanted to chip in with a goal or two this season that’d be about time too. Anyway, once the goals come I don’t really care from where.

It’s another game in which Steve Bould will take the manager’s position on the bench with Arsene Wenger sidelined because of his failure to build a shrine to Platini in his back garden, but after a more testing game away at Montpellier I think this will feel more comfortable for him tonight. Overall it’s an Arsenal side with something to prove in a number of areas, but if we play well and cut out the silly stuff we should have another three points under our belts come the final whistle.

Meanwhile, the club’s financial position has been expertly analysed by the peerless Swiss Ramble who takes apart the facts and figures, cuts out the jargon, and presents a clear picture of the results. I’m the first to admit that numbers are not my thing so to have everything spelled out so brilliantly is a wonderful resource. I’m not going to go into the nuts and bolts of it here, you need to go and read it, but some brief highlights:

– No other leading club has been so dependent on player sales as part of its business model. In fact, over the last six years, selling the club’s stars has been responsible for £178 million (or over 90%) of the £195 million total profit. That’s great business, but it makes it very difficult to build a winning team, as Arsenal seem to be perpetually two pieces short of the complete jigsaw.

– There’s little sign of this slowing down either, as the sales of Van Persie and Song were made after the 31 May accounting close, so will be included in next year’s accounts, contributing another £37 million of profit.

– Much was made of commercial revenue rising £5.6 million to £52.5 million, but this is only £4.4 million higher than the £48.1 million received in 2009.

 – The most important revenue stream for Arsenal, match day income, has actually fallen from £100 million to £95 million, despite ticket prices being raised last season.

And that last one is key. Ultimately what happens on the pitch drives match-day income. When a team does well, tickets sell. When standards slip, people are less inclined to pay high prices. When a club gains a reputation for selling its best players and doesn’t win anything, it becomes harder to shift those very expensive seats and corporate boxes. The rising wage bill is also a factor and it’s not just player salaries driving that. Ivan Gazidis took home a basic of £1.36m with a £675,000 bonus after a season in which we scraped into the Champions League.

There’s talk of 2014 when new commercial deals can be struck and FFP but the fact is Arsenal have money in the bank and, if we’d wanted to we could have invested more heavily in the team this summer. Ivan was at pains to make it clear that Arsene Wenger is the one who dictates what’s spent on the squad but perhaps the fall in match day revenue should bring some pressure from above to make what Goodplaya often calls a ‘bums on seats’ signing.

Not just for the sake of making a signing, obviously, but to better the team, to give us an improved chance of competing and winning something and, subsequently, selling the tickets that need to be sold. Anyway, if it all sounds a bit gloomy it’s not meant to. There are obviously positives too, we’re in good financial shape, and I’d recommend making a large cuppa and having a read for yourself.

A couple of final things: We’ll have full live blog coverage of the game later on. That means up to the second text updates which you can follow on your browser, tablet, phone etc. It’s newly optimised for mobile too, so check back here around 7pm for another post with all the information, or simply bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

If you fancy betting on the game, Paddy Power will give you a £20 free bet if you sign up and bet £10. Simply click here to register.

You can win yourself a brilliant Highbury print by entering the competition here – and you can check out other colour schemes and finishes at, the creator’s site.

And finally, this little known ‘fact’ I posted on Twitter last week:

Carl Jenkinson little known fact

Led to this question at yesterday’s press conference:

Research indeed, and Jenkinson’s reaction is just priceless. Right, that’s that, back later for the game. Until then, have a good one.

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