Olympiacos 1 Arsenal 3
Surely Arsenal cannot undo their good work this time. They take a commanding lead to the Emirates but, as the minutes ticked down, a modest Olympiakos had cause to fancy their chances of repeating last year’s turnaround when the second leg comes around.
The Greek champions had equalised Martin Ødegaard's stunning opener through the architect of that heist, Youssef El-Arabi, and Arsenal yet again had poor decisions in building from the back to blame. But excellent late finishes from Gabriel and Mohamed Elneny meant that was a concern for another day and afforded Mikel Arteta's side a foot in the quarter-finals.
Ødegaard had missed an inviting chance within three minutes of the start, screwing Kieran Tierney’s cutback wide from inside the box, and it was tempting at that point to observe that finishing had been the only glaringly deficient area of his game since arriving on loan from Real Madrid. The manner in which he scotched that idea, just over half an hour later, was as thrilling as it was unexpected.
Olympiakos, often ragged and clearly inferior, had shown signs of containing Arsenal when Ødegaard found a pocket of space 25 yards out and slightly to the right of centre. His left-foot strike was executed with startling venom and, while José Sá might have produced more than an ineffectual flap at the ball, the home goalkeeper was simply outdone by its speed as it flew straight down the middle of his goal.
It was just reward for Arsenal’s invention. In the seventh minute Sá had been rather more decisive when, after incisive work from Ødegaard and Héctor Bellerín, absent defending gave Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a free header. His attempt deflected off Sokratis Papastathopoulos, an Arsenal player until Olympiakos rescued him from exile six weeks ago, and was goalbound until Sá brilliantly turned it on to the bar.
Arteta had, by his standards, upped the ante by saying Arsenal “have some feelings” towards these opponents and they were performing with a fizz that suggested the memory of February 2020 was still raw. The bulk of Olympiakos’ first-half energy was consumed with trying to keep them at bay, Bukayo Saka the recipient of frequent rough treatment, and it was entirely in character that any troubles the visitors did endure were entirely self-inflicted.
Before his thunderbolt, Ødegaard had offered Bruma a run into Arsenal's box with a stray pass and been lucky to see him shoot tamely at Bernd Leno. Not long after it, David Luiz presented possession to Giorgos Masouras in an episode reminiscent of Granit Xhaka's rocket at Burnley; Masouras ballooned well off target when he should have equalised.
Otherwise their control had been total. But if it is careless to err twice, how does one describe the third time? Arsenal could hardly have looked more comfortable as the second period developed but then showcased, yet again, an inability to think clearly when playing out from the back.
Dani Ceballos had just replaced the excellent Thomas Partey when he received a short pass from Leno, who was acting as a sweeper just outside the penalty area. Leno had clear options to his right but played Ceballos, who was surrounded by Olympiakos players, horribly into trouble. An alert El-Arabi picked his pocket and, with Leno backtracking fruitlessly, curled into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
El-Arabi would have compounded matters if, midway through the half, his close-range shot had not been deflected wide via Bellerín’s last-ditch lunge.
Instead, Arsenal found a way to clear their heads. Gabriel’s run and leap, dominating Yann M’Vila as he met Willian’s hanging cross following a short corner, were bullish and his header majestic.
Then Elneny, who had come on four minutes previously, thrashed in what was surely a decisive strike from range via Sá’s left hand. – Guardian