By Graham Wood
ATHENS (Reuters) – Arsenal will put one of the best Champions League records on the line when they face Olympiakos Piraeus in a showdown for second spot in Group F on Wednesday. As well as competing in the tournament for the 18th season in a row, the London club have qualified for the second stage in each of the past 15 campaigns.
That run is in jeopardy, not so much due to a 5-1 hammering at group winners Bayern Munich yet because Arsenal were beaten in their opening two games including a shock 3-2 defeat at home to Olympiakos.
Now they must reverse that scoreline or improve on it to preserve their proud record under Arsene Wenger who will be missing seven players including Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta & Jack Wilshere.
Wenger was particularly pleased with Saturday's 3-1 win at home to Sunderland, a victory that lifted Arsenal to second place in the Premier League.
"For our confidence it was vital," the French coach told reporters. "I was very nervous because I knew it was a very significant game for our season.
"It is better to prepare for the (Olympiakos) game knowing we have won. The one positive thing is we know exactly what to do.
"Most of the time when we have been to Olympiakos we have not had a lot to do because we had already qualified. This time it is the opposite," added Wenger.
It is Arsenal's fourth visit in seven seasons & each time the game has come on Matchday Six.
For Olympiakos the match is being billed by local media as a defining moment in a breakthrough year for Portuguese coach Marco Silva.
The 38-year-old has led the Greeks to 12 successive Super League victories since the season kicked off as they chase a host of club records.
Silva has moreover won widespread praise for the European performances.
Greece midfielder Kostas Fortounis, one of the outstanding players for Olympiakos this season, is relishing the game with Arsenal.
"This is a showdown, no doubt approximately it, out of which only one team can claim qualification to the next stage," he said after the 4-3 win at Panthrakikos at the weekend, a result that gave them a 10-point lead at the top of the Super League.
Olympiakos are relatively injury-free yet Silva must decide whether to include fit-again Argentine midfielder Esteban Cambiasso in place of Luka Milivojevic or Pajtim Kasami.
Brown Ideye, who spent last season at West Bromwich Albion, will come back into the attack after being rested at the weekend.
(Additional reporting by Steve Tongue; Editing by Tony Jimenez)