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Rediff.com  » Sports » Champions League: Arsenal look up to man in-form Van Persie

Champions League: Arsenal look up to man in-form Van Persie

Last updated on: September 27, 2011 18:25 IST

Arsenal look up to man in-form Van Persie

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Robin van Persie has emerged as the man to lead Arsenal out of their early-season funk and the Dutch striker will be a key figure in ensuring their rehabilitation continues in the Champions League at home to Olympiakos on Wednesday.

Van Persie, club skipper in the wake of Cesc Fabregas's exit to Barcelona, scored twice in a 3-0 home victory against Bolton Wanderers on Saturday -- a win that helped steady the ship after the club's worst start to a Premier League campaign.

Despite that fillip there is still a long way to go before the doom-mongers disperse and anything short of victory on Wednesday against a club with an abysmal record in England would offer them more ammunition.

Olympiakos have lost all nine away games against English opposition in Europe, conceding 29 goals in the process and scoring just once -- a record that suggests even an Arsenal side in transition should build on their opening draw in Dortmund with a convincing home win.


Image: Robin van Persie
Photographs: Getty Images
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Van Persie has matured as a leader at Arsenal: Wenger

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Van Persie, 28, has scored five goals already this season and Wenger believes the Dutchman, who British media reported on Monday was in no rush to extend his current deal beyond 2013, is now mature enough to lead from the front, both as a goalscorer and a motivator.

"Robin has matured from the boy who was a little bit emotionally impulsive when he arrived to the guy he is today," Wenger told Arsenal's website.

"It was difficult to predict but he is intelligent, he speaks his mind and you can talk to him as well. He takes advice and overall he has developed very well.

"I think he has a combination of leadership on the pitch. He is technically a super-talent, certainly, and you gain respect from the others. Now he has added the second part, that means speaking his mind."


Image: Arsene Wenger
Photographs: Getty Images
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Arsenal confident of a fine show at the Emirates

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In the wake of the defensive mayhem of an 8-2 defeat at Manchester United and a 4-3 loss at Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal looked far more secure against Bolton with German Per Mertesacker assuming the role of organiser at the back.

"After the four goals against Blackburn we lost a little bit of confidence but we were very proud of our performance on Saturday," he said. "We want to go on with this way of defending."

Arsenal have a formidable record at the Emirates in the Champions League and Wenger knows smooth progression to the knockout rounds will depend on avoiding any upsets at home.

"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," Wenger said.

"We got an interesting point in Dortmund and we know after if we do well at home, then we will qualify."


Image: Mikel Arteta of Arsenal looks on during a training session
Photographs: Getty Images
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Advantage Walcott for Wenger

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Theo Walcott's expected recovery from a knock sustained against Bolton will be a major boost for Wenger who initially thought the England flyer had suffered a serious injury.

They will definitely be without Jack Wilshere though while fellow midfielder Yossi Benayoun is unlikely to have recovered from a thigh strain.

Olympiakos head into the match in better shape than they were for their opening group match against Marseille two weeks ago when they lost 1-0 in Athens.

Ernesto Valverde's team had not played a competitive match before that game due to the fact their opening two Super League games were postponed as a result of a match-fixing scandal.

The Greek Champions have since won both of their Super League fixtures.

Valverde has minimal injury worries with the only notable absentee being Greece starlet Giannis Fetfatzidis, who is still recovering from a groin strain. Midfielders Francisco Yeste and Ljubomir Fejsa both face late fitness tests.

Probable teams:

Arsenal: 13-Wojciech Szczesny; 3-Bacary Sagna, 4-Per Mertesacker, 6-Laurent Koscielny, 28-Kieran Gibbs; 8-Mikel Arteta, 17-Alex Song, 27-Gervinho, 23-Andrei Arshavin 10-Robin van Persie, 14-Theo Walcott

Olympiakos: 17-Franco Costanzo, 35-Vassilis Torossidis, 4-Olof Mellberg, 21-Avraam Papadopoulos, 20-Jose Holebas; 3-Francois Modesto, 31-Pablo Orbaiz, 93-Djamel Abdoun, 19-David Fuster, 14-Kevin Mirallas; 10-Rafik Djebbour 


Image: Theo Walcott
Photographs: Getty Images
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Chelsea's Mata makes quick return to Valencia

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Chelsea's Juan Mata will be back among friends when the Spanish World Cup winner returns to Valencia in the Champions League on Wednesday, just over a month after leaving.

Manager Andre Villas-Boas paid around $40.4 million to lure the playmaker to the Premier League and the 23-year-old made an immediate impact, scoring in an opening 2-0 home Group E win over Bayer Leverkusen.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him and playing against him, we all are," Valencia winger and Mata's former room-mate Pablo Hernandez said.

"It will be special for him as he returns to what was his home for a number of years but there are no friends out on the pitch. We'll be giving our all to beat them and Juan, then afterwards I can wish him all the best."

Valencia started their European campaign with a disappointing 0-0 draw at Racing Genk.


Image: Juan Mata of Chelsea
Photographs: Getty Images
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Drogba's return boosts Chelsea

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Chelsea are in high spirits following a 4-1 win over Swansea City on Saturday which left them third in the Premier League, three points behind Manchester United and Manchester City.

Although Spain striker Fernando Torres's 39th minute sending-off was a blot on the afternoon, he looked back to his old sharpness and scored for the second successive league match.

Chelsea were also boosted by the return of Ivory Coast forward Didier Drogba as a late substitute after a four-week injury layoff.

His stoppage-time goal was another bonus for Villas-Boas who has a strong squad at his disposal for a match he describes as Chelsea's toughest in the group.

Probable teams:

Valencia: 1-Diego Alves; 23-Miguel, 4-Adil Rami, 18-Victor Ruiz, 22-Jeremy Mathieu; 19-Pablo Hernandez, 5-Mehmet Topal, 10-Ever Banega, 21-Daniel Parejo; 9-Roberto Soldado, 14-Pablo Piatti

Chelsea: 1-Petr Cech; 2-Branislav Ivanovic, 4-David Luiz, 26-John Terry, 3-Ashley Co#8804 12-John Obi Mikel, 16-Raul Meireles, 8-Frank Lampard, 10-Juan Mata; 9-Fernando Torres, 11-Didier Drogba


Image: Didier Drogba
Photographs: Getty Images
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