Arsenal Opposition Scout Report – Olympiakos
Arsenal’s next game is against Olympiakos in the Europa League round of 32. Mikel Arteta and his men know that this is a very presentable opportunity to win a trophy and secure Champions League football for next season.
This analysis report will analyse Olympiakos and their playing style. It will also analyse what threats Olympiacos pose and where Arsenal may look to target.
After 24 league games, Olympiakos sit top of the Greek Super League, with 60 points. They are 2 points off second-placed PAOK and 16 points clear of third-placed AEK. Olympiakos are yet to lose in the league winning 18 and drawing 6 of their league games. Olympiakos have won 4 of their last 5 matches, with one goalless draw. Pedro Martins and his men had a tough Champions League group, facing Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur and Crvena Zvezda. They finished third in the group, amassing just one win and 4 points.
Olympiakos deploy either a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 formation, with the latter being more commonplace in recent weeks. The 4-3-3 often alters to a 2-3-5 shape when Olympiakos are attacking with the fullbacks offering the width and the front three playing tight to each other. They aim to occupy all 5 channels, with rehearsed moves revolving around players dropping off the line and others moving in behind. They do this to help drag and pull players out of positions before exploiting the space they leave. When in their 4-4-2 shape, Olympiakos look to attack in a 2-4-4 with the fullbacks playing somewhat more conserved than in the 4-3-3. They only overlap when the opportunity arises and instead look to play tighter in midfield to help rotate the ball through the team, reducing the distances between each other.
Pedro Martins likes for his team to play with width and attacking overloads. Olympiakos will often commit 4 or 5 players down either the left or right flank in an attempt to outnumber their opponents and progress the ball into dangerous areas of the pitch. By attacking with overloads down one side of the pitch, they open up space on the other flank. This caters for a switch in play to a winger holding the width. Olympiakos can then create 1v1 situations with the opposition fullback. Olympiakos like to combine their attacking width with high defensive pressure. In their 4-4-2 shape, they look to press in a 4-2-4 structure. The aim is to cut passing lanes and pressurise the opposition back four into clearing the ball long where the Olympiakos defenders can win the ball with their aerial dominance.
Olympiakos love attacking with width and penetration. They look to pull their opponents’ defence wide, before either putting a cross in or passing back inside. Martins allows for his wingers to have minimal defensive responsibility until they have to defend in a low block. This means that they stay high and wide and look to exploit the space in behind their opponents’ fullbacks. It also means that the width provided by the wingers, allows the two strikers to occupy the channels between the centre backs and fullbacks. Olympiakos often go long when the ball is deep, looking to exploit the space in the channels with clever movement. To prevent the space between the midfield and attack becoming too large, dependent on the location of the ball, either the wingers or strikers look to drop and create angles and options to help progress the ball up the pitch.
Should Olympiakos win the ball in a medium block, the first thought is to always move the ball out wide. They want to move the ball wide as soon as possible to create as much space centrally for their strikers as possible. Another common ball when in a medium block, is the pass up to one of the strikers. A common pattern is that Ahmed Hassan drops off the front line to receive the pass in midfield or hold up the ball. He will then look to spray the ball either out wide or to a free teammate. His striking partner Youssef El Arabi will look to run the defensive line back with the wingers. The majority of teams Olympiakos play in the Greek Super League, play with a back four. This means that this particular pattern leaves the defenders unsure whether one player should go with Ahmed Hassan and leave a gap behind or drop off and allow him time and space.
Olympiakos are very threatening when playing crosses into the box. They attempt to go man for man with their opponents’ defenders. This leads to very uncomfortable situations for the defenders and goalkeeper. They also look to have a player wide of the box, should the ball go all the way through and evade the intended targets. This allows Olympiakos to retain the ball and continue pressurising their opponents. January arrival Ahmed Hassan has 2 goals in 3 games in the league for Olympiakos and was brought in for his aerial threat. At 6ft 2in, he poses a real dilemma for defenders. He will often look to attack the cross from the centre of goal and has a strong standing jump. This is something which David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi must be very aware of.
In defensive transition, Olympiakos look to defend in a medium block. They want to press high and use their wingers to cut passing lanes and start fast counter attacks. The wingers only track back when they drop to a low block. On counter-attacks, the space left by their wingers can easily get exploited. The wingers not tracking back until they drop to a low block often leaves the space behind the winger and in front of the fullback free. If the midfielders can get across then Olympiakos have real problems. They played like this against Tottenham and had success cutting passing lanes with the wingers, however, paid the price when Spurs counter attacked. Playing three in midfield doesn’t help Olympiakos protect the vacated space out wide, which a winger would occupy either. It protects the space in midfield better, but if the opposition stretches you as Spurs did, then this free space will always be there.
Where Arsenal can exploit
Arsenal must look to exploit the width of the pitch, given the difficulties had by Olympiakos in those areas defensively. Arsenal must look to condense and limit the defensive pressure which Olympiakos can put on the ball when in central areas of the pitch. Arteta must also ensure that his team can proactively defend the areas of the pitch were Olympiakos look to threaten in. Olympiakos commit a lot of fouls by stepping onto their opponent. This will give Arsenal opportunities to load the box or shoot at goal from close free kicks. I expect Olympiakos will be somewhat conservative in the opening exchanges of the first leg, however, their principles are to attack with width and high pressure.
In conclusion, Arsenal will have to be aware of the threats posed by Olympiakos. In particular the threat from crosses and isolated 1v1’s. Olympiakos are a team who play football based on their strengths, meaning they put crosses in because they have players who are good in the air. They create 1v1’s because they know their wingers can beat most defenders. They try and create the best situations for the personnel they have and therefore Arsenal must look to nullify these strengths.