ARSENAL 3 OLYMPIAKOS 1
Arsenal: Mannone, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Coquelin, Cazorla, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho, Podolski.
Subs: Shea, Santos, Djourou, Arshavin, Ramsey, Walcott, Giroud
Olympiakos: Megyeri, Maniatis, Contreras, Manolas, Paulo Machado, Fuster, Holebas, Siovas, Diakite, Greco, Mitroglou. Subs: Carroll, Modesto, Lykogiannis, Ibagaza, Abdoun, Pantelic, Diogo.
It is 19:40 GMT, and the Gentleman representing North London Association Football Side, The Arsenal, took to the pitch amid thunderous applause from their loyal supporters.
Torrential rain greeted the visiting side, Olympiakos of Greece, and their merry band of two thousand or so vocal braves.
At 19:45 precisely, the Referee, Svein Oddvar Moen from Norway , blew the whistle and the game was under way.
Mr Wenger did not opt for the more traditional 2-3-5 formation, rather a more contemporary 4-3-3, and opting for a front three of Gerv, Podolski and The Ox.
The Arsenal defence was looking shaken from the start, with errors from Jenkinson, Vermaelen and Vito, on top of presenting the Greeks with a free kick as early as the 4th minute.
The Arsenal found it hard to move up through the gears, with The Greeks getting men quickly behind the ball in numbers, and clearly hunting in packs to try and nullify the creative threat of Santi Cazorla.
Arsenal were focussing their efforts down the right, with great work from Jenkinson who is building a good working relationship with Chamberlain.
An uneventful attacking start from Arsenal was at last punctuated in the11th minute when Santi curled in a fiercely dipping free kick from wide on the left, which found the finger tips of Megyeri to see it over the bar.
It was clear that the big Greek centre forward Mitroglou was going to trouble the Arsenal defence, whereas Gervinho was struggling against the powerful Greek central defenders.
On 28 minutes Koscielny was lucky not to be red carded for a lunging tackle after a charging forward run, however, Arsenal were to have their luckiest escape in the 35th minute after a wonderful piece of work and a cross from Maniatis down the right, could only watch as Contreras missed a sitter, with our central defenders failing to pick up the runner.
Suddenly, Arsenal were finding some space down the Greek left flank, and in the 42 minute great work from Cazorla and Podolski saw the German cut the ball cut back to Arteta who in turn found Gervinho moving across the area, and with one sharp swing of the boot fired back across goal to Megyeri’s right and into the net. 1-0.
Alas, the half was to end in horribly familiar fashion when what should have been a bread and butter cross to defend from Greco, found its way to an unmarked Mitroglou who managed easily to ghost in between Koscielny and Vermaelen and head home. 1-1.
There will be no prizes for guessing what Messrs Allardyce and Carroll will have in mind for the weekend, but it will involve some height. I hope Herr Mertesacker has plenty of Lemsip.
First half written by MickyDidIt89
Despite the below par first half showing, we came out for the second period unchanged.
As fans, the best we could hope for was that Bouldie had spent the interval giving them whatever is the bald man’s equivalent of “the hairdryer” (a severe polishing, perhaps?).
Suitably buffed and shiny, the lads managed to go up a gear from the restart. We looked more adventurous going forward and more combative in the middle of the park.
We also seemed to have decided to start channeling our attacks down our left side perhaps, as Terry and Raddy pointed out in comments, because Olympiakos were without their regular right back and were using a converted midfielder instead.
Gibbs, one of the few really good performers from the first half, started becoming even more influential and this, in turn, brought Podolski more into the game. Santi Cazorla was also spending more time on our left, whereas in the first period he had tended to drift right.
Santi showed his gifts again and again, often holding off two or three of the Greeks’ players while showing exquisite footwork and always finding a red shirt at the end of the move.
The pressure began to tell – and it was a shame when the self same Santi squandered the first real chance of the half. Podolski did one of his trademark lose-the-ball-then-get-it-back-through-sheer-physical-strength moves on the left edge of the Olympiakos box. Gervinho got to the base line and managed to cut the ball back to Cazorla, unmarked inside the penalty area. The Spaniard tried to pass it into the bottom left corner but was a couple of yards wide. For all his skills, he needs to add a touch more composure to his shooting.
Coquelin, who had a less than stellar game on the ball but did lots of good work off it, showed his immaturity when giving away a free kick then standing to argue about it while the Greeks broke upfield. Fortunately their attack fizzled out, but on another occasion we could have been punished.
Shortly afterwards we managed to get back in front, thanks to the GervoPod. Gervinho, yet again, got to the goal line and yet again achieved an excellent cutback for Podolski (it’s strange to think that only a couple of weeks ago Gerv was being slaughtered for his lack of end product). The German shot with his left and the ball went into the net through a crowd of defenders and the ‘keeper’s legs. Although the GK might have done better, it just shows that when you shoot on target, good things can happen.
From this point (the 56th minute) the game started to open up. Olympiakos needed to go for it and we needed to try and punish them on the break without being reckless in defence.
Around about now our captain and centre back Thomas Vermaelen clearly misread the score board. Instead of seeing that we were 2-1 up, he clearly thought we were 1-2 down and started charging forward to try and get the equalizer.
Off he went on a barnstorming run northwards into the heart of the Greeks’ back line.
And he might well have had a goal from an Arteta free kick, which was arcing right onto his bonce in the six yard box, with no defenders on him. Unfortunately Koscielny, who had followed his captain upfield, got there first (and in a less favorable position) and headed over from three yards.
Back at our end Mannone had another shaky moment when he fluffed the ball out for an unnecessary corner, then fumbled a catch in the ensuing play. The Italian does plenty right, but somehow fails to fully convince between the sticks.
On 70, Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is still finding some steep gradients on his learning curve – last night included – was replaced by Walcott. There has been much talk lately about Theo and his performances (or lack of them) when he has come on as a sub, but last night I thought he looked sharp, fast and dangerous in a game that suited his strengths (ie, against a side that needed to attack us, leaving room at the back). Certainly I saw no lack of effort from him.
Indeed he almost set up a scoring chance for our most attacking player – yes, Thomas Vemaelen – with a low cross into the six yard box which the Olympiakos ‘keeper did well to gather.
As play resumed from the goal kick, Vermaelen carried on northwards, and was soon on his way up the Holloway Road heading towards Archway, valiantly taking the battle forward.
In the 80th minute Gervinho was replaced by Giroud and Podolski by Ramsey. Within minutes Giroud was unlucky not to get on the score sheet (how many times have we said that?) when a great run and cross from Walcott led to him trying an audacious flick with the outside of his boot, well taken by the goalkeeper. Whatever is being written and said about OG, touches like that show he is not short of confidence.
By this stage Vermaelen was past Watford and heading up the A1, but, thankfully, the rest of the defense – in particular the outstanding Arteta, Gibbs and Jenkinson – were managing to limit Olympiakos’s chances.
Giroud’s pattern of ‘right place, right time, wrong luck’ continued when he was set up by Cazorla after a clever Ramsey back heel. Giroud blasted a goal-bound shot but it cannoned off a defender’s shoulder and went out for a corner.
GOAL: On 88, Vermaelen has fired the ball into an empty net at Villa Park. He looks surprised that none of his team mates is around to celebrate.
Meanwhile back in N5 a fine third goal gave us a scoreline that slightly flattered on the night, truth to tell. A long pass from deep (I can’t remember who it was from) found the head of Giroud in a central position several yards outside the opposition box. Olivier showed exactly what a strong centre forward can do in these situations, holding off the defender and guiding a perfect header into the path of Aaron Ramsey, who was making a fine run from midfield. With only the goalie to beat, Ramsey’s chipped finish was classy and confident. Well done to the young Welshman. It won’t silence his critics, but it might give them food for thought.
Overall, we did well to turn a sluggish first half into a dominant second half showing. The big pluses were the two young full backs, Cazorla, Arteta, Gervinho and, for me, all three substitutes who did a great job when they came on.
The worries? I’m afraid to say that it’s the centre back pairing that causes most concern. The defending for the Olympiakos goal would earn you a bollocking in any Sunday league side; and Vermaelen’s tendency to commit to attack when we are defending a one goal lead is simply mystifying. I can only think he knew he was having a difficult game and wanted to score to try and make amends. He would be far better off making amends by keeping our back line water tight.
Mannone: Made one very good save in the first half and was well positioned for several other Olympiakos efforts. But also a couple of howlers. Not entirely convincing. 6
Gibbs: Fine game both defensively and in attack. 8
Jenkinson: Getting better and better. How on earth did Arsene spot the potential in this boy? 7.5
Vermaelen: Some of the committed defending we have come to expect from him, but also gave away another unnecessary free kick in a dangerous area and was absent without leave as we were protecting a one goal lead. 5
Koscielny: Probably at fault for the opposition’s goal. Defended pretty well otherwise, but missed a good chance to score in the six yard box. 6
Arteta: Couple of uncharacteristic misplaced balls in the first half, but again worked so, so hard tidying up and keeping possession. 7
Coquelin: Looked rusty (no surprise) but worked hard closing down Olympiakos and breaking up their moves. 6
Cazorla: Struggled to find space in the first half but stepped up a gear in the second. A vital cog in this team. 7.5
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Looked a little out of his depth and, perhaps, unsure of his position. Not an out-and-out wide player, but not quite sure where to position himself when infield. 5
Podolski: Showed his goalscoring knack in a generally quiet performance. 6.5
Gervinho: Another fine game from the Ivorian. Ran at the Greeks all game long, took his goal well and looked dangerous every time he went forward. He’s turning into a real player. MOTM 8.5
Walcott: Great effort, skill and endeavour from the sometimes maligned winger. Unlucky not to have had a couple of assists. 7
Giroud: I am really impressed with him and just wish he could get a run of starts. Gives us something extra and gets in great positions. Fine assist for Ramsey. 7
Ramsey: Had some “Ramsey moments” including a couple of silly Hollywood passes that turned out to be more Hollyoaks, but also showed what a threat he can be surging from midfield. Excellent finish for his goal. 7
2nd half written by RockyLives