Arsenal 3 Olympiacos 1: The Gunners Gain a Stronghold of Group B
A response was needed after that disappointing showing against Chelsea and as expected, Arsene Wenger was sighted in the director’s box with Ivan the Terrible (also had a few words with Woy Hodsgon as well). With UEFA sanctioning the boss with a three-match touchline ban, Dark Defensive Lord, Steve Bouldimort, was going to be the stand-in gaffer for the night but he had stated before the game that he had everything under control.
The starting line-up was tweaked a bit as it was Per Mertesacker’s turn to pick up a flu, so Laurent Koscielny retained his place in the heart of the defense alongside Thomas Vermaelen. Further up the pitch, Francis Coquelin deputized for Abou Diaby, allowing Mikel Arteta (that passed a late fitness test) the license to drift forward to support Santi Cazorla and the forward line. Lastly, the Ox got the nod ahead of Aaron Ramsey in the right wing.
Pundits and commentators alike kept waxing lyrical about Arsenal’s change in fortunes in defense. This time last year, the Gunners had conceded 14 goals in six Premier League games but the Dark Lord’s black magic has seen things change for the better, even though some work still has to be done in certain areas, such as defending set pieces properly.
Arsenal’s illustrious visitors from Piraeus, Olympiacos, have a very appalling record on English soil with 10 defeats in their last 10 visits to the shores of England. Their entire away record in the Champions League is equally atrocious, as it is believed that the Greek outfit has won only three of the last 42 European visits to several football grounds across the continent.
However, Arsenal began on the wrong foot when Vito Mannone and Thomas Vermaelen had communication problems with the captain not being in the same wavelength with his goalie from a simple throw; gifting Paulo Machado a chance to make the Gunners pay but Arteta reacted quickly to block the effort.
The Ox showed great tenacity to win the ball from Jose Holebas on the right-hand side but his cross failed to connect with any player donning the Red and White. Cazorla tested the keeper from an acute angle but Balasz Megyeri did well to make a fine stop as the goal-bound shot had some dip and swerve as well.
With 20 minutes gone at the Emirates, the statisticians showcased the display HUD revealing the passes attempted and ball possession but eyebrows weren’t raised when Arsenal had a staggering 112 passes compared to Olympiacos’ 27. The ball possession count was 61% – 39%.
Kostas Mitroglou was a widely isolated figure in the first half but he did well to lash in a shot through a pile of bodies, and Mannone did well to save the effort. The visitors almost grabbed a shock lead Giannis Maniatis shot met an unmarked Machado but he preferred to kill a bird in the sky with a gaping goal looking at him.
Arsenal finally made all the possession count when some brilliant play from Cazorla and Podolski down the left hand side provided a cut back for Gervinho. The Ivorian with a massive forehead steadied himself before drilling a tame shot past Megyeri. The Hungarian keeper’s dive was as fast a tortoise trying to retract its head back into its shell.
I’m sure you get my drift.
Arsenal almost shot themselves in the foot when Vermaelen uncharacteristically handed Machado a chance on a plater with another awful pass, but the midfielder’s shot was easy pickings for Mannone. Arsenal’s complacency was eventually punished when an unmarked Leandro Greco swung in an inch-perfect cross that was headed home by the ineffectual Mitroglou.
That late equalizer was a kick in the teeth as the Gunners had it all to do in the second 45 minutes.
Gervinho did pretty well on the left hand side to fashion a chance for Santi Cazorla but his left-footed finish was wayward to say the least. However, there was no stopping Gervinho a second time as he showed great determination to ward off some challenges before slotting a simple pass for Podolski. The German Machine lashed a shot with his cultured left foot and it went past the keeper’s legs to put Arsenal on the driving seat.
Arteta swung in a dead ball from the right but Koscielny glanced his header wide. Vermaelen was rightly disappointed as he was certainly in a better position to score. The Ox had a sloppy game but his standards so he was withdrawn for Theo Walcott that hasn’t signed the ting yet.
Vermaelen made one of his forays forward and he was almost found by Walcott but the goalie showed good anticipation to intercept the effort. However, the guys at the commentary box gave pieces of their minds in regard to the captain bombing forward even though his team was ahead. A good point though but I guess that forays like this made him score six goals last season (Newcastle and Fulham, anyone).
Wenger Lord Bouldimort took out the goalscorers for Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud and as expected, they earned a rousing ovation from the Arsenal faithful. Like Matchday 1, Le Forehead and Prinz Poldi came up with the goods again for Arsenal.
Walcott used his reserves of pace to get past the fullback before drilling a cross for Giroud. The Frenchman reacted first to the ball but his shot was saved by the goalie. As the commentator rightly pointed out, Giroud is excellent in getting into dangerous positions in the opposition area but he hasn’t matched such off the ball runs with the required end-product, goals.
When it seemed as if Olympiacos would get something from the game, Giroud cushioned a perfectly-weighted header to Ramsey’s path. The Welsh captain controlled the ball, shoved off the challenge of a defender before chipping the ball past Megyeri to put the game beyond doubt.
Shortly after Ramsey’s goal, I tweeted this,
To cap off a splendid night for Arsenal, Giroud’s former employers, Montpellier, got a late equalizer against Schalke 04, allowing the Gunners to gain a stronghold of the group with maximum points from their first two games. A double header against Schalke 04 follows and the outcome of the contest will go a long way in determining the victors of this group.
Mannone (6.5) didn’t have much to do and was rightly beaten with a peach of a header from Mitroglou.
Jenkinson (7.5) played like a Bacary Sagna without a black skin and that awkward hairstyle of course.
Gibbs (7.0) was very strong in his challenges and supported the left attack well.
Vermaelen (6.5) was a bit erratic with his distribution and he can count his lucky stars that Olympiacos isn’t a clinical side.
Koscielny (6.5) made a few good interceptions but had a distinctively average outing.
Coquelin (6.5) was very sloppy in the first half but gained confidence as the game progressed.
Arteta (7.0) balanced the play at the middle and made a couple of vital interceptions as well.
Cazorla (7.0) was a live-wire with the ball at his feet. His style of play in the game reminded me of Aliaksandr Hleb with all the close control from relatively tight situations all game long.
Ox (6.5) wasn’t too convincing in my opinion. Invoked the frustrating spirit of Abou Diaby as he always wanted to get that extra touch was it was highly unnecessary.
Podolski (7.5) had a very good game and scored a well-taken goal to put his team on the ascendancy.
Gervinho (8.5) scored another good goal that is making him to lead Arsenal’s goal scoring charts. It’s also believed that his last four goals came from his last four shots on target. Someone wake me up from my dreams but has Gervinho become that clinical?
Walcott (7.0) put up a decent shift on the right and impressed a few with his dribbling skills. He still has to sign the ting though.
Giroud (7.0) kept finding himself in dangerous positions and provided a good assist for Ramsey.
Ramsey (7.0) had another good cameo and capped it up with the goal of the night.
As its a simple rule of one game at a time, Arsene Wenger and his guns will head to Upton Park this weekend to get their title challenge in the Premier League back on track, and nothing more than a win will suffice.
We wanted a response, and boy, we got a response.
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