Arsenal left feeling second best again
Olympiakos 2 Arsenal 1:Arsenal will tell themselves that this was not a do-or-die fixture. Qualification for the Champions League’s knock-out phase had already been assured and the merits of advancing as the group winners to the last 16 remain dubious. Scary fish are circling in the pot of runners-up. Arsene Wenger’s starting XI had also been experimental.
Yet the manner of the defeat to Greece’s champions raised familiar questions, which Wenger is sick of hearing let alone addressing. A goal to the good at the interval, courtesy of a slick assist from Gervinho and a thumping conversion by Tomas Rosicky, the scene had been set for Arsenal to show steeliness and professionalism, to slam the door on any Olympiakos fightback.
Instead, the hosts took a grip on proceedings and floored Arsenal with two goals in quick succession. Wenger raged about the first, scrambled in by Giannis Maniatis, which followed the award of a controversial corner. There was the standard sight upon the full-time whistle of Wenger remonstrating with the fourth official. But Arsenal could have no complaints about the result and it was worrying to witness how sharply the tide had turned in the second half, and how Arsenal lacked the collective strength of character to halt it. With Montpellier holding Schalke in France, this was an opportunity missed.
Wenger might have dreamed of his team scoring the opening goal to fire the confidence levels and he was left to curse an early gilt-edged miss by Aaron Ramsey. After Marouane Chamakh had headed down Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross and Drissa Diakite failed to clear, the ball sat invitingly for Ramsey, close to the penalty spot. He missed his kick completely. Earlier, Oxlade-Chamberlain had dragged a shot so far wide that it went out for a throw-in.
But with Olympiakos having grown into the tie and enjoyed the better of the first-half chances, Wenger’s team struck, following their first contribution of quality. Gervinho surged to the byline, jinked sharply to throw his markers and roll a precision cut-back into the path of the on-rushing Rosicky. His side-footed finish was laced with power and precision.
Olympiakos flickered as an attacking force, with Djamel Abdoun delighting the crowd with his close control and skill. His best first-half moment saw him spin away from challengers and threaten the edge of Arsenal’s area before offloading to Vassilis Torossidis. The marauding full-back’s shot was high.
Abdoun almost set up Rafik Djebbour only for Thomas Vermaelen to make his first excellent intervention of the evening while Torossidis went close with a header and Abdoun brought a smart save out of Wojciech Szczesny. Rosicky’s goal, though, forced Olympiakos on to their heels.
Andrey Arshavin replaced Rosicky at half-time and there was a sight for sore eyes when Chamakh crossed from the right and Arshavin rose to head for goal. The effort was off-target. Arshavin’s had another sighting shortly afterwards and his fierce drive was well saved by Roy Carroll.
Arsenal complained about the award of an Olympiakos corner but when Abdoun returned the ball into the area, Kostas Manolas’ header struck Ramsey and fell for Giannis Maniatis, who bundled home.
Jardim’s determination to pursue the victory was reflected in his substitutions and one of them, Kostas Mitroglou, fashioned the decisive blow. His right-footed curler for the far post looked threatening and it passed through a crowded area, past Szczesny and into the corner.