Now that we are in October and the season is slowly growing out of its infancy, how are we to assess the start made by Arsenal both home and abroad?
Of all the clubs set to compete at the top end of the Premier League and European competition, Arsenal’s beginning to the season is perhaps the most difficult to pick apart. If we take it from the point of Robin van Persie’s long, drawn out departure to Manchester United – yet another transfer saga that overshadowed the Gunners’ preparation for the new season – then you’ll remember many predicted a relative struggle when the Dutchman packed his bags, and consecutive goalless draws against Sunderland and Stoke did nothing to make people change their minds.
All of a sudden, a win over a desperately poor Liverpool side and previous woes seemed to have been forgotten as the focus shifted on to three clean sheets on the bounce and the influence of new assistant manager Steve Bould.
Two further wins over Southampton and Montpellier were followed by a very good draw at Manchester City, leaving people to speculate about a title charge at the Emirates, but Saturday’s defeat to Chelsea means that, in the cold light of day, Arsenal’s opening eight weeks can’t be seen as anything other than slightly above average. Arsene Wenger’s side lie eighth in the Premier League with just nine points from six games, two less than West Brom, West Ham and arch rivals Tottenham, and are now seven points behind leaders Chelsea.
That is quite a gap at this early stage of the season and I think people, myself included, may have got a bit carried away with Arsenal. I would stick my neck on the line now to suggest that, on the evidence so far, Champions League qualification is the best that Wenger can hope for (once again) and that this Arsenal vintage are not going to succeed where other far better ones have failed and win the European Cup, either. I am not convinced about the strikeforce, nor do I convert to the notion that defensive frailties no longer remain.
That said, Arsenal will have no problems getting out of their group. In Europe, things are going swimmingly and a Matchday 1 win over Montpellier has put the Londoners in a commanding position with all three home matches still to come and a place in the last 16 should be close to a formality.
Arsenal seem to face either Marseille and Olympiakos every single year and that is the case again with the Greeks the first visitors to the Emirates in this season’s Champions League.
The Gunners are obviously favourites at 3/10, with the draw at 17/4 and Olympiakos priced at 8/1, and even at those odds, it has to be Arsenal all day long here.
Arsenal’s record at the Emirates in the Champions League has been brilliant over a number of years, with the 3-0 semi-final loss to Manchester United the only time Wenger’s side have tasted defeat on home soil in Europe since Chelsea beat them in the quarter-finals in 2004 – a run of 42 games with just one loss.
Only ten of those games were not won and Olympiakos aren’t going to make it an 11th. The Greeks are in good form domestically having won all five of their games in the league, but they are poor travellers in Europe and have been for some time.
A 1-0 win over Marseille last year stopped a run of six defeats and a draw on the road – a set of results that saw Olympiakos score just twice. The Greeks have lost 26 of their 35 away games in the Champions League and Arsenal can make it 27.
Both of the two previous meetings between the sides at the Emirates saw Arsenal win and under 3.5 goals scored and at 23/20 that looks like another sensible bet. Six of Arsenal’s fixtures this year have seen less than four goals, as well as each of the last six home games in the Champions League.
Recommended bet: Arsenal to win and under 3.5 goals @ 23/20
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