Arsenal 1-2 Olympiakos: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Final Result: Arsenal 1-2 Olympiakos
Arsenal XI (subs) (4-2-3-1): Leno; Bellerin (Willock), Mustafi (Sokratis), D. Luiz, Saka; Xhaka, Ceballos (Torreira); Aubameyang, Ozil, Pepe; Lacazette (Martinelli)
Following the slender win against Olympiakos in Athens, Arsenal expected to do enough to get to the next round at home, and with no match fixture this weekend due to Manchester City’s engagement in the Carabao Cup final, Arsenal manager, Mikel Arteta, fielded what we can assume as his strongest lineup available, barring injuries. However, the game went into extra time and Olympiakos’ Youssef El Arabi hit the sucker punch that eliminated Arsenal from the competition.
Like the 1966 movie classic, I will categorize yesterday’s game against Olympiakos using the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s get to it shall we?
You Can Always Rely on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the Goals
In the 25 Premier League games he has featured, Arsenal’s captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has found the net 17 teams, and when you add his three goals in other competitions, it has taken his tally to 20, 10 more goals than his closest goalscoring rival in the club, Gabriel Martinelli. Despite the fact that he has been shunted to the left wing to accommodate the ineffectual Alexandre Lacazette (more on that anon), Aubameyang scored what we hoped was going to be the match winner with only seven minutes to spare. However, Aubameyang had another glaring chance in the 123rd minute to be the hero of the night which he missed, and he has been very distraught. It reminds me of that miss against Burnley.
However, his contribution last night proved that he can be trusted upon to find the back of the net.
Another Defensive Masterclass From Skhodran Mustafi
In the turn of the new year, Skhodran Mustafi has been a different beast and has continued to show massive improvement under Arteta, leaving Sokratis out of the team. Yesterday, Mustafi was at his best, making valuable clearances, blocks and interceptions, further endearing himself to the hearts of the fans. Sadly, he picked up a knock and had to be substituted for Sokratis. I’m pretty sure his absense played a role in the match winner as the defense wasn’t the same without him.
I must really credit the German for his renaissance especially when he was shown the exit door and it seemed like we didn’t want anything to do with him following his high profile gaffes and blunders, but he has really improved and I hope this good form continues.
The Youngsters and their Hunger to Impress
Fate has smiled on Bukayo Saka this season as injuries to Kieran Tierney and more recently, Sead Kolasinac have allowed him to continue his footballing education as a left back and his creative juices have been flowing regularly as he currently tops the club’s assist charts with 10. He almost added another assist when he found Lacazette with a lovely drilled effort but he failed to time his run appropriately, thereby falling into the offside trap but in the extra time, he smashed in another sumptuous cross that went behind the predatory Gabriel Martinelli.
Speaking of Martinelli, I am quite bewildered how he lost his place in the team despite showing a lot of promise and scoring some vital goals but instead of retaining his place ahead of Lacazette, which will also allow Aubameyang play in the middle, he went further down the pecking order behind Eddie Nketiah.
The performances of Saka and Martinelli have been haert warming and they will need consistent game time to continue to hone that brooding talent.
Alexandre Lacazette’s Atrocious Form
Everyone associated with Arsenal football club, and at least, those that watch the games we have played are all in unison with one fundamental fact – Alexandre Lacazette is in the worst form of his Arsenal career. His decision making is poor, his shooting is erratic, he takes too many touches in the box before pulling the trigger and his off the ball movement hasn’t been impressive.
Most critically, he has found goals had to come by with just nine goals in 27 games.
It’s not like Lacazette selects himself every week despite the fact that he has been playing poorly, but this reminds me of the Granit Xhaka situation early in the season where he was in a terrible run of form but Unai Emery kept playing him every week, until things turned sour against Crystal Palace in October. I am hopeful it doesn’t get to that scenario with Lacazette but his form is a major concern for the club and it seems that there’s no signs of real improvement.
The Enigma Known as Nicolas Pepe
The jury is still out for our 72 million pound man but watching him this season, I can clearly infer that he’s a footballer that can offer you the best of both extremes from the amazing to the frustrating. In the same game, Pepe made me pull out some strands of hair from my beard and also had a moment where the Olympiakos goalie had to make a smart save to stop his goalbound shot.
In all this we can confirm that Pepe is heavily inconsistent and Arsenal fans will have to come to terms with this fact. Yes, one should expect more from a record signing but when the player’s head is hardly in the right place most of the time, it makes you wonder. Just watch how he would probably score and assist against West Ham next week, like he did in the corresponding fixture but in a night when we needed him to step up his game, he failed woefully.
Mikel Arteta’s Lack of Tactical Ruthlessness
We can all attest to the fact that Mikel Arteta has been a very positive influence since he joined the club with most of the players coming to the media to share how life has been peachy and creamy with the new gaffer. We, the fans, have also seen how the football has massively improved from the shitefest we witnessed under Unai Emery and the club is going in the right direction with Arteta at the helm.
For starters, we have confirmed that the 4-2-3-1 tactical setup is here to stay and quite frankly, we have gotten some decent and encouraging rsults using that formation. However, there are some personnel changes that we expected Arteta to make, especially with the way the game was progressing but he failed to handle it. Even if we have been terribly disappointed seeing Aubameyang play on the left wing consistently, Lacazette had no business spending up to 105 minutes on the pitch, as his struggles in front of goal continued. I also struggled to see the value Joe Willock offered us and like Lacazette, he’s another player that has been in a poor vein of form.
After the game, Arteta stated that the team wasn’t ruthless and was punished. If only he looked at the mirror.
The Team’s Lackadaisical Performance
I remember that first half against Leeds United at the Emirates where the team was so poor in the first half but managed to have enough in the tank to see out the SkyBet Championship outfit. Maybe the lads felt that the away win at Athens was a enough to see them through to the next round and all they needed to do was just show up at the Emirates but their visitors challenged them and had some chances to kill the game off, which they eventually did.
From the concentrations issues David Luiz showcased to Hector Bellerin clearly out of depth, the Arsenal rearguard looked out of sorts, without adequate protection from Ceballos and Xhaka. Lucas Torreira’s introduction shored things up but the Gunners were still vulnerable on the break as they sought to kill off the contest. Pepe was terribly frustrating in attack, Lacazette was woeful yet again and Aubameyang looked wasted on the left flank.
It’s shameful to see that they couldn’t hold on for seven more minutes against a side that was ready to defend as if their lives depended on it. But even after the disappointment of conceding late, Arsenal had a chance to put the game beyond doubt and the man you’d want on the end of such a chance was Aubameyang, but sadly, he fluffed his lines and that was it.
Bernd Leno’s Gaffe
If we are being honest, Bernd Leno was a spectator for most of the game and did what was required of him when the opportunities arose but he will not cover himself in glory in the role he played which ultimately led to his team’s exit from the competition. He is an excellent shot stopper on his day but he’s capable of doing something eccentric like his blunder against Chelsea last month.
He picked the wrong game to exhibit this unneccesary trait and one would wonder why Emi Martinez was not allowed to continue his stint as the Cup keeper. I guess, that’s all on the boss, Arteta.
There goes our chance of qualifying for Europe via the Europa League. I guess all eggs are going to be laid on the Premier League top four qualification basket.
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