Arsene Wenger expects Arsenal to continue their recovery from a miserable start to the season when Olympiacos visit the Emirates Stadium in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.
Wenger's side have lurched from one disaster to another for much of 2011 and the opening few weeks of the new campaign have been no different. The departures of star midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri destabilised an already fragile squad to such an extent the Gunners briefly languished just one place above the Premier League relegation zone after their worst start for 58 years.
Wenger has been forced to swat away increasingly pointed questions about his future, while the club's chief executive Ivan Gazidis felt obliged to issue a vote of confidence in the French coach after a 4-3 defeat at Blackburn. In the circumstances, Saturday's 3-0 win over Bolton was a much-needed morale boost, but the critics, both in the Emirates stands and the media, will be back in force if Arsenal slip up at home to Olympiacos.
The Gunners kicked off their Group F campaign with a 1-1 draw against Borussia Dortmund and victory over the Greeks is essential to avoid falling behind in the race to reach the second round. Wenger can take confidence from the Robin van Persie-inspired win over Bolton and his side's formidable home record in Europe's elite club competition.
Even eventual winners Barcelona lost at the Emirates last season, beaten 2-1 in the first leg of the last 16, and Wenger knows his team's comfort level at home will be key to qualification. "In the Champions League, you need 11 points to qualify from the group stage, that means you have to take nine at home and two or three away," he said. "We got an interesting point in Dortmund and we know after if we do well at home, then we will qualify."
While Wenger will rightly regard his side as favourites against Olympiacos, he must have been cursing his luck on Monday when it was confirmed England midfielder Jack Wilshere will be sidelined for up five months following surgery to cure a stress fracture to his right ankle. Wilshere has been sidelined since suffering the injury in a pre-season friendly against the New York Red Bulls and his absence robs Wenger of his most creative midfielder.
Van Persie future clouded
There was further bad news earlier in the day when Arsenal captain Van Persie revealed he was in no hurry to commit his long-term future to the club. Van Persie scored his 100th Arsenal goal against Bolton on Saturday and his form and fitness are essential ingredients to any hopes of winning a trophy this season.
For now Van Persie remains committed to the cause and he believes Arsenal's gritty draw against Dortmund will stand them in good stead for the rest of the competition. "We achieved a good result in Dortmund, even if their late goal might make that sound a bit strange," Van Persie said.
"They are the German champions and their running and fitness was phenomenal. You could see we found it difficult to string passes together and it was clear we were playing against a top team. Looking at the situation as a whole, they really pushed us to the limit, so it is a good result and a decent start in the Champions League."
Olympiacos continued their 100 per cent start to the league season with a 3-2 win against Ergotelis on Saturday thanks to goals from Kevin Mirallas, David Fuster and Marcano. But the Greek outfit lost their opening Champions League game 1-0 at home to Marseille and travel to north London knowing another defeat would leave them with a tough task to qualify for the last 16.