No two-legged tie is ever truly over until it’s over – history has taught us that lesson repeatedly.
But the sort of advantage Arsenal have over Olympiakos means it would take something remarkable – miraculous, even – for the Greek side to progress. That’s not to say it can’t happen, just that it is extremely unlikely for a side that, let’s face it, didn’t pull up any trees in the first leg.
Complacency and panic are powerful enemies and you can never discount the possibility of stupidity with this Arsenal side but they should have enough about them to prevent the visitors from winning by three clear goals tonight.
With our advantage in mind and a chance to muddy the waters of the league table on Sunday at West Ham, now would seem an excellent opportunity to get some minutes into the legs of our peripheral players and give some of our more over-worked operators a night off.
Granit Xhaka has played a lot of minutes since mid-December and could truly do with a spell on the sidelines, even if only for this one game. The same goes for youngsters Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney who have run through walls for the team since the start of the year and risk paying a price too dear by their continued inclusion.
Our win at Leicester was proof enough that the likes of Willian, Cedric and Nicolas Pepe are more than capable of stepping into the breach when required and Dani Ceballos will surely relish the opportunity to get some minutes under his belt. What of Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli and Reiss Nelson too? Would it not be wise to bring a few of these guys into the squad to relieve the burden on those who have strained every sinew these last few months?
I understand, of course, that the manager has to find a balance and must remain wary also of the threat of implosion if Olympiacos should fashion themselves an early goal or two. It wouldn’t do to play an entirely second-string XI supported by an under 23’s bench after all.
But it does feel like as good an opportunity as we have had for a long time to step back from the ‘red zone’ – a zone littered with muscular injuries, tweaks and set backs that can cost far more in the long-term than the reward of taking the risk in the first place. While he is undoubtedly still learning as he goes, I think this is a balancing act Mikel Arteta is increasingly aware of and one I would expect him to navigate tonight.
If naught else, the ability to make five substitutions means there will be plenty of scope for change should things play out a little less positively than we might like on the night. Above all, a disciplined, professional job is what’s required tonight and if the manager can rest some legs along the way too, we can count that as a bonus.