Arsenal 2-1 Olympiakos: Face It, You All Didn’t Think We Were Going to Win Tonight, Didn’t You?By: Perry | September 28th, 2011
This was arguably our easiest game of the CL group, so of course, everyone was just waiting for us to slip up so they can go back to “Arsenal in crisis” mode. Yep, despite the fact that Man City collapsed to a great Munich side, Man U had to labor to rescue a 3-3 draw in Arsenalesque fashion against Basel, and Chelsea gave up a stupid equalizer against Valencia, all eyes were on us to falter so the
bloodhounds press hacks could get their self-righteous column templates up. Well, sorry, but we won. Suck it, Daily Mail/Sky/Sun/Goal!
But the way the match developed, you would have been forgiven to think that we weren’t going to win this one. Let’s face it, this one was a bit of a bizarro Arsenal performance. We got two well taken goals, before awful defensive mistakes gift Olympiakos a goal and all signs point to us collapsing and giving one, if not two more goals and draw/lose to the minnows of the group…except that didn’t happen. Actually, as time wore on, Arsenal improved defensively and saw out the game in relatively comfortable fashion. This is starting to become a regular occurrence that the moments of stupidity are largely being confined to, well, moments, and not entire halves of football. That’s good, right?
The game started quickly, with both sides determined to get the first goal. Arsenal were the ones to strike first, through a great 8th minute goal from wunderkid Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, chesting a long Song delivery, dribbling past a few defenders, and then shooting into the low corner with his left foot. A great goal for Arsenal, and an even greater goal for AOC, who started his first CL game today.
Following that, in the 14th minute, Arsenal were veeeeeeery lucky to not concede. Following an Olympiakos corner, a goalline scramble ensued, with an Olympiakos player having the chance to shoot from point blank range not once, but twice. The first time, Arteta got just in time to block it off with what appeared to be his package (great one for the team, Mikel), and the second time the Oly player missed into the side netting. Huge let off for us, and a sign of things to come from that half.
Except instead of conceding, Arsenal first added another! A promising play in midfield led to a break away for Andre Santos, who raced down his side of the pitch into the Olympiakos box. He crossed, intending for Chamakh, but the ball was hit away by the opposing defender. Fortunately, the ball kindly fell to Santos, who took a great shot with his weaker right foot to beat Constanzo at his near post and make it 2-0 to the Arsenal.
However, you just can’t have an Arsenal game without moments of defensive insanity. In the 27th minute, a short Olympiakos corner led to Ibagaza sending a dangerous cross into our box, which a completely unmarked David Fuster met with an emphatic header into the back of our net. 2-1, and it was suddenly game on. The way he scored was pretty infuriating, for me at least- the Arsenal players were all guilty of ball watching, and honestly, you could be forgiven for assuming Fuster just walked into the box and headed it home. Just a dumb goal.
For the rest of the first half, it was mixture of Arsenal probing for the third goal, with a couple of dangerous Olympiakos breaks in between. Szczesny had to be at his very best to deny Djebbour and Mirallas the equalizing goals, and for the life of me, I couldn’t imagine the game ending with no goals in the second half. A draw or a loss looked like a very disastrous possibility.
Except… that’s exactly what happened. Either from a good half-time talk, improved focus between the players, or just deciding to not let this one slip away, Arsenal massively improved defensively in the second half. On the attacking side of the pitch, our boys did their best to try to find that relieving third goal, to no avail. AOC missed a chance following an impressive chance from Chamakh, and Arshavin had a toe poke barely swatted away by Constanzo late on. Olympiakos really didn’t do much better- their counter-attacking breaks were far less intimidating in the second half, and they only had one really close chance. A little after the hour bar, an Olympiakos player shot from about 20-30 yards about and his hard, dipping shot went over Szcz and hit the bar! The rattling of the metal crossbar silenced the Emirates, and to be fair on another day that one would have gone in and we would have gone back to square one. Thankfully, it didn’t, we held on to the win and we suffered no injuries (as of now). A good game, and now we look to get a much-needed derby victory against the Spuds on Sunday.
Possession: Arsenal 53% – 47% Olympiakos
Shots (on target): 9(7) – 13(5)
Corners: 5 – 6
Fouls: 11 – 15
On to the ratings:
Szczesny: 7 Made a couple of good saves, and had no chance of the goal. When you’re an Arsenal fan and you really don’t have much to say about the GK, it’s more often than not a good result. SZCZ we can.
Sagna:6.5 By his lofty standards, he had a pretty poor first half, and the Olympiakos winger had a fun time down our right hand side, especially when they countered. But Sagna improved in the second half (along with the rest of our defense) and had a good finish to the game.
Mertesacker: 7.5 Towering display. Really good at breaking up Olympiakos’ play, particularly when they went on their many counter-attacks. Decent in the air as well. Seems to have settled nicely at Arsenal and has eased the pain of losing Vermaelen for now. Can’t wait till the Belgian gets back, though…
Song: 8.5 Man of the Match Imperious display. Nearly impenetrable at the back, and showed his midfielder skills with some nice passing as well. As good of a CB performance as we’ve had from Arsenal this season, and I wouldn’t say no to him starting at CB again on Sunday. If we had another good DM I would clamor for him to stay on as a CB until TV5 returns, but we really don’t. Sigh…
A. Santos: 7 A really good performance from our Brazilian today. Scored a great goal, even if he was a little lucky that the rebound fell straight to him. Competent at the back, even if he was left to dry with Arshavin’s lack of tracking back. Bit of a coin flip on who starts on Sunday, between Gibbs and Santos.
Frimpong: 6 Not DEEENCH, bro. His passes were VERY erratic and more often than not his passed ended up in an Olympiakos player. His aggressiveness and eagerness, while nicely shown, also highlighted his still budding talent and his inexperience. Will have an interesting fight with Coquelin for that backup DM spot.
Rosicky: 6 He got the armband because of his time with the club, but honestly there were others on the pitch tonight who merited the armband more than the Czech. He was anonymous for most of the match, and particularly in the 1st half, where his inefficiency led to Olympiakos getting a lot of dangerous breaks. Our game improved once he moved to the front for Ramsey. Hard to see him beyond a loyal squad player, which is a shame.
Arteta: 7.5 Ran the midfield tonight. Had a great, crazy goal line stop to deny Olympiakos a sure 1-1 in the first half. Made some of his trademark through passes here and then, and just looked completely at ease in the middle of the park. Like Mertesacker, has slotted in easily at Arsenal and seems ready to step up and play an integral part of our season.
Arshavin: 6 His talent and skills means he can’t be easily dismissed, but man, it’s nights like these were you really start to get mad at Arshavin (except for Perry). Left Santos out to dry with a complete lack of running back, and was generally ineffective up front, missing several chances to shoot or pass. If Gervinho is fit, I don’t see how he starts on Sunday.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7.5 Got the big chance and he took it. A great goal, running by several defenders before slotting it home with a great shot, and was lively down the flank for the rest of the match. Missed a good chance to make it 3-1 in the second half, but he’ll learn from those. Has jumped headfirst into his Arsenal career to make a credible threat to Walcott for that wing spot, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was on the field come kick off at the Lane on Sunday.
Chamakh: 7 He didn’t score, and he missed an easy chance to make it 3-0, but golly, he tried. And that’s not sarcastic, either. Kept on running, hassling the Olympiakos players for the ball, doing his best to pass the ball as most accurately as possible, and the like. Has improved so far this season, and I may get a bit of stick for this, but I sincerely believe he’s about to embark on a scoring run. Watch this space.
Ramsey: 7 As soon as he came in, our midfield looked more solid and more organized (although that could have been because of Rosicky’s move to the wing). Linked up well with his teammates, and started some promising breaks. Decent display.
van Persie: 6.5 Came on for Chamakh. Had a couple of opportunities to either pass for a goal or run it to the corner flag, but just muddled it in the middle. Still, really smart gambit by
Wenger Rice to rest him ahead of Sunday.
Gibbs: 6.5 Came on for Arshavin. Provided some cover for Santos.
A really important 3 points to pick up, and hopefully a game we can build on. Still, our defense was shambolic at times, especially in the first half, so I’m kinda wary of the game on Sunday. Have a good Wednesday!