Wenger suggests ‘fear factor’ can undermine Olympiakos

Urges Arsenal players to remain calm and believe in their own quality

Arsene Wenger at a news conference in Athens ahead of the clash with Olympiakos. Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

Arsene Wenger at a news conference in Athens ahead of the clash with Olympiakos. Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

 

Arsene Wenger has urged his Arsenal players to remain calm, particularly if the chance to complete a Champions League escape beckons, as he suggested that Olympiakos could be undermined by a “fear factor”.

They will qualify for the last 16 if they win by two clear goals or better Olympiakos’ 3-2 win over them at the Emirates in September and Wenger said his players were ready to put into practice the lessons they had learned from previous European heartbreaks.

The club’s Champions League hopes – and their proud record of having made it to the second phase for each of the past 15 seasons – has come down to a head to head with Olympiakos at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium on Wednesday night and Wenger made particular reference to last season’s last-16 exit against Monaco.

Three-one down from the first leg at the Emirates, Arsenal were 2-0 up in the return tie with 11 minutes to go, and glory within reach. But they did not have the composure to take the decisive step. Wenger said that this had to change against Olympiakos.

“From the Monaco tie, especially, we can learn from what happened to us,” Wenger said, when the recent near misses against the French club, Bayern Munich and Milan were mentioned. “Overall, the game we played in Monaco was very positive but maybe we rushed a little bit in the last 10 minutes . We played quite well and with the right patience until the last 10 minutes, until we rushed.”

Olympiakos have won every match that they have played this season – apart from their two Champions League group ties against Bayern – and their 4-3 victory at Panthrakikos on Saturday set a new domestic record for consecutive wins from the beginning of a season, breaking the club’s own mark from 1966-67.

12 out of 12

Greek Super League

“We play against a side that is, at the moment, qualified but they can lose what they have very quickly and that can create a fear factor,” Wenger said. “The best way for us to achieve the qualification is to believe in our quality. Our record [of 15 straight qualifications] is very important. There is nothing more to say than that – it is very important. We want to do well in Europe and the only way to do well is to do it against Olympiakos. They are a good side but we know we can do it. The team will be highly focused. It is a big significance for us.”

Wenger’s squad has well-documented injury problems – the manager is currently without seven players, including Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin – and his major selection decision relates to Theo Walcott, and whether he is ready to start.

Walcott returned from a hamstring injury as a 64th-minute substitute in the home win over Sunderland on Saturday but there is a difference between being fit and being fit to start. The signs here were that Walcott will again be used as a substitute.

Defiance

“Of course, we can be dangerous if we go through because we come from far,” Wenger said. “If you look at the numbers since the start of the Champions League group stage, we have played with 10 men in Zagreb, we scored an own goal at home to Olympiakos; every single game we were a bit unlucky.

“But if we get through, we will be dangerous. At the moment, we have two or three super-favourites and whoever gets through will have to chase them.” – Guardian Service

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