LONDON - Robin van Persie has emerged as
the man to lead Arsenal out of their early-season funk and the
Dutch striker will be a key figure in ensuring their
rehabilitation continues in the Champions League at home to
Olympiakos on Wednesday.
Van Persie, club skipper in the wake of Cesc Fabregas's exit
to Barcelona, scored twice in a 3-0 home victory against Bolton
Wanderers on Saturday - a win that helped steady the ship after
the club's worst start to a Premier League campaign.
Despite that fillip there is still a long way to go before
the doom-mongers disperse and anything short of victory on
Wednesday against a club with an abysmal record in England would
offer them more ammunition.
Olympiakos have lost all nine away games against English
opposition in Europe, conceding 29 goals in the process and
scoring just once - a record that suggests even an Arsenal side
in transition should build on their opening draw in Dortmund
with a convincing home win.
Van Persie, 28, has scored five goals already this season
and Wenger believes the Dutchman, who British media reported on
Monday was in no rush to extend his current deal beyond 2013, is
now mature enough to lead from the front, both as a goal scorer
and a motivator.
"Robin has matured from the boy who was a little bit
emotionally impulsive when he arrived to the guy he is today,"
Wenger told Arsenal's website.
"It was difficult to predict but he is intelligent, he
speaks his mind and you can talk to him as well. He takes advice
and overall he has developed very well.
"I think he has a combination of leadership on the pitch. He
is technically a super-talent, certainly, and you gain respect
from the others. Now he has added the second part, that means
speaking his mind."
In the wake of the defensive mayhem of an 8-2 defeat at
Manchester United and a 4-3 loss at Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal
looked far more secure against Bolton with German Per
Mertesacker assuming the role of organiser at the back.
"After the four goals against Blackburn we lost a little bit
of confidence but we were very proud of our performance on
Saturday," he said. "We want to go on with this way of
Arsenal have a formidable record at Emirates Stadium in the
Champions League and Wenger knows smooth progression to the
knockout rounds will depend on avoiding any upsets at home.
"In the Champions League, you need 11 points to qualify [from the group stage] - that means you have to take nine at
home and two or three away," Wenger said.
"We got an interesting point in Dortmund and we know after
if we do well at home, then we will qualify."
Theo Walcott's expected recovery from a knock sustained
against Bolton will be a major boost for Wenger who initially
thought the England flyer had suffered a serious injury.
They will definitely be without Jack Wilshere though while
fellow midfielder Yossi Benayoun is unlikely to have recovered
from a thigh strain.
Olympiakos head into the match in better shape than they
were for their opening group match against Marseille two weeks
ago when they lost 1-0 in Athens.
Ernesto Valverde's team had not played a competitive match
before that game due to the fact their opening two Super League
games were postponed as a result of a match-fixing scandal.
The Greek Champions have since won both of their Super
Valverde has minimal injury worries with the only notable
absentee being Greece starlet Giannis Fetfatzidis, who is still
recovering from a groin strain.
Midfielders Francisco Yeste and Ljubomir Fejsa both face
late fitness tests.
Arsenal: 13-Wojciech Szczesny; 3-Bacary Sagna, 4-Per
Mertesacker, 6-Laurent Koscielny, 28-Kieran Gibbs; 8-Mikel
Arteta, 17-Alex Song, 27-Gervinho, 23-Andrei Arshavin 10-Robin
van Persie, 14-Theo Walcott
Olympiakos: 17-Franco Costanzo, 35-Vassilis Torossidis,
4-Olof Mellberg, 21-Avraam Papadopoulos, 20-Jose Holebas;
3-Francois Modesto, 31-Pablo Orbaiz, 93-Djamel Abdoun, 19-David
Fuster, 14-Kevin Mirallas; 10-Rafik Djebbour
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain)
Central defender fit enough to play in the Champions League final at Wembley
Bayern Munich unfazed by the need to be more clinical in attack against Borussia Dortmund
Former Chelsea and Liverpool boss poised to join Napoli, says Serie A club's president
Ruud Gullit believes Bayern Munich are in for a shock when they take on Borussia Dortmund
Ten years on, the legends speak to FFT
Your questions answered by an A to Z of legends
75% of all TV is Bale
On the road to ruin
Nike CR7 IX for you
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010