Arsenal thrive in familiar territory


Group B Arsenal 3 Olympiacos 1:ARSENAL MADE a couple of late substitutions in this Champions League match, but it was not a minor courtesy to the players introduced. It brought a welcome pause for the hosts as they maintained the 3-1 score that leaves them with full points.

Victory was thoroughly merited and could have come by a far greater margin, even if it did take until stoppage time for the substitute Aaron Ramsey to break clear and score the neat third goal. Oympiakos showed endeavour, although they have now been beaten in both group games.

Irritation took another shape here when Arsenal’s command, to put it kindly, fluctuated in the first half. They took the lead in the 40th minute with a low drive by Gervinho from the edge of the penalty area after a tackle by Mikel Arteta had brought the opportunity.

Just before the interval, though, Olympiakos equalised when Kostas Mitroglou got free of Laurent Koscielny to head home a delivery from Leandro.

Wenger’s side normally seem cut out for the Champions League despite setbacks such as the visitors’ leveller here. In the seven years without a trophy, Arsenal came quite close to taking Europe’s greatest prize in club football, but Barcelona produced late goals in that 2006 final.

Arsenal have seldom seemed quite so tenacious since, but there is expertise. Although there has been a partial overhaul of the team, the side sometimes looks as if the European scene is the setting in which they are most likely to flourish, even if Olympiakos did check them in the opening 45 minutes.

Wenger was in the stands here because of the touchline ban he brought on himself last season for his confrontation with the referee Damir Skomina after Milan eliminated Arsenal. His judgment, all the same, was felt. In the alterations to the line-up following defeat here by Chelsea in the Premier League, there was no place for the centre-half Per Mertesacker, even on the bench where he had sat at the weekend. There was a firmness in such a decision when it involves a player with 82 caps for Germany.

Wenger would have yearned to communicate after the visitors might have scored in the 35th minute. Paul Machado was in position to connect with a cross from Jose Holebas, but merely lifted it over the bar.

Arsenal were busy enough, but Olympiakos, already beaten in the group after visiting Schalke, were ready to take the risk of committing men into the attack.

There can have been few neutrals among the onlookers, but this match could have been regarded as a pleasure by anyone who cared for excitement and unpredictability. The home supporters, however, took a more intense satisfaction as an insistent side claimed a 2-1 lead.

There was a mixture of insistence and quality when Gervinho linked with Santi Cazorla before the latter’s cross was blocked and the ball ran back for him to set up Lukas Podolski for a goal.

The real trial for Arsenal had been the spasmodic nature of their work. Credit was due to Oympiakos. Perhaps they reckoned a successive consecutive loss in the group would be irreparable, but not many visiting teams would have challenged Arsenal with such vigour on this ground. Wenger’s men were still striving at times to make sure that Olympiakos were kept at bay.

Instead of calming a match that Arsenal must have anticipated winning with some ease, there was a need to marshall forces and protect the advantage. Negotiating this stretch in the path towards the last 16 was full of jeopardy and, indeed, fascination for the crowd.

Guardian Service

ARSENAL: Mannone, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Cazorla, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Walcott 70), Gervinho (Giroud 79), Podolski (Ramsey 79). Subs not used: Shea, Andre Santos, Djourou, Arshavin. Booked: Koscielny.

OLYMPIAKOS: Megyeri, Diakite (Ibagaza 72), Manolas, Contreras, Holebas, Siovas, Maniatis, Greco (Abdoun 67), David Fuster, Paulo Machado (Pantelic 79), Mitroglou. Subs not used: Carroll, Modesto, Lykogiannis, Diogo. Booked: Contreras.

Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen(Norway).

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