Arsenal 3 (Gervinho 42, Podolski 56, Ramsey 90) – Olympiakos 1 (Mitroglou 45)
Man of the Match – Gervinho (Arsenal)
There were nails in mouth, and bottoms on the edge, as Arsenal nervously registered their second win in as many games in the Champions League, with a 3-1 reverse over Greek champions Olympiakos.
Arsene Wenger made a complete mockery of my expected starting lineup, by not starting with Giroud up front, and sticking to the devastating front line that is Podolski and Gervinho. At the back, with the uncertainties displayed over the weekend, it was but common sense to expect Per Mertesacker in the starting 11, but the German got a flu, probably transferred to him by Thomas Vermaelen.
This meant Laurent Koscielny got another chance to prove himself, along side, the reassuring, er, Vermaelen. Mikel Arteta had a late fitness test, after the ankle injury he picked up against Chelsea, and was passed fit to start. Start, he did along side French midfielder Francis Coquelin, who came in due to Diaby’s absence.
Olympiakos had some major injury concerns, with captain Vasilis Torosidis and their top scorer this season, the Algerian Rafik Djebbour missing. This meant there was a start for the bulky Kostas Mitroglou, who often looked like he was a demon in a Biblical story. On another night, maybe. The Greek side, had set up to frustrate, with a 5 man midfield.
Surprisingly, there was no start for former Manchester United goalkeeper Roy Carroll, instead opting for the highly promising Hungarian youth international Balazs Megyeri. Maybe the coach knew Carroll is always shaky on English soil, based on past evidence.
None of the sides looked settled in the opening minutes. Olympiakos had clearly set out to make a daylight kidnapping or something, surrounding Santi Cazorla with as many players as possible. However, Arsenal’s defensive frailties, and lack of communication at the back were exposed, when miscommunication between Mannone and Vermaelen almost saw Olympiakos capitalize, but for Arteta’s interference.
Arsenal’s first chance came through a free kick when some Greek defender, with a really complicated name (they all have one) looked to manhandle Gibbs at the edge of the penalty area. Cazorla’s incoming free kick forced a fine save from Megyeri.
Arsenal’s defending looked even more convincing, with the tireless Greek midfield, looking lively and hard to fight off. Machado met a Giannis Maniatis cross from the right, but managed to sky the effort, with the goal right ahead of him. Koscielny got himself in a tangle with Machado, earning him a yellow, and a half clearance from Vermaelen, allowed Mitroglou to take a shot, but was saved by Mannone.
However, Arsenal got the first breakthrough on the night, when Gervinho, aided by the wet pitch, saw his low shot from outside the box roll past Megyeri into the far post. 1-0 to the Arsenal on 42 minutes.
However, that was only momentary, as the Andy Carroll of Greece, Kostas Mitroglou, outjumped both Koscielny and Vermaelen, to head home the deserved equalizer off a Leonardo Greco left wing cross, just before half time. Arsenal’s susceptibility to big, physical forwards was clear for everyone to see, and I am pretty sure Big Sam has taken note of it.
Arsenal came out with more purpose in the second half, and got the goal they were looking for on 56 minutes. Gervinho bamboozled some Greek defender, with a complicated name, only for his cross to be met by another Greek defender with a complicated name. It came straight back to Gervinho, who set up Lukas Podolski, as the German swivelled, and had his low shot squirm into the net, from under Megyeri.
From there on, Arsenal’s passing and play looked far more convincing than it had all night. There was pace, and some fluidity. Even Cazorla looked like a beast at times, shaking of all those big bad Greeks. But, there was little to suggest that there would be another goal, Arsenal’s defence looking solid at times.
Arsenal threw on Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey to introduce some fresh legs to run at the Greek defence, and it worked, with Walcott looking particularly lively. He made several runs, in the face of Holebas, who looked unconvincing whilst facing Chamberlain. You can’t blame him, can you.
Arsenal knew they needed a third goal to put the game to bed, and Thomas Vermaelen made a couple of darting runs. One particular cross from Walcott from the right flank was almost met by the Belgian, only for Megyeri to collect.
Olivier Giroud almost got his first goal in Champions League football, but his shot which was seemingly going in, blocked by Siovas and out for a corner, with the commentator yelling “What does he need to do, to score?”. Well, he didn’t have to, as a clearance from the Arsenal half, met the Frenchman’s head, whilst under some pressure from a defender.
His delightful headed glance played into the path of Aaron Ramsey, who beat a tiring Maniatis, to dink a fine finish past Megyeri. There was no time to play after that.
So, all in all a positive result, against what I should say, was one of the most well organised European sides that have come to the Emirates. Olympiakos came to frustrate, and did it well for large parts of the game. They crowded the midfield, broke on well built corners, and used physicality to bully Arsenal.
The Gunners were equal to it, atleast on some ocassions. However, some negatives about Arsenal’s defending do remain. The centre back pair of Koscielny and Vermaelen, does look shaky, and I think, I am going to have to come to stop coming to conclusions, based on statistics.
Arsenal will have a handful over the weekend, with Carlton Cole and Andy Carroll starting, and hopefully Mertesacker will be fit enough to start the game. In midfield, Coquelin looked lightweight, and was fought off the ball quite a few times. Cazorla was given little space, and it was the gameplan of the Greek side to restrict the Spaniard’s movements.
Up front, Podolski looked slightly blunt, but lively. He helped set up with the first goal, with some fine linkup with Cazorla. Jenkinson and Gibbs again had top notch games. Both were tenacious, pacy, and defensively astute. However, Gibbs does need to work a bit more defensively, with Olympiakos fashioning most chances from his flank.
Gervinho looked lively all night, and his finishing has improved hasn’t it. I would have loved to see Giroud score, and he did come close once. He gets into fantastic positions, which is a must for any striker, and I think he will start against a physical West Ham side.
Arsenal’s win takes them to the top of the table, with Schalke held at home to a 2-2 draw by French champions Montpellier. Arsenal host Schalke next, in 3 weeks time.
Jai Arsenal 🙂