Olympiacos 0-3 Arsenal
Arsenal managed to qualify from the group stage of the Champions League once again thanks to an excellent performance to overcome the odds against Olympiacos.
After two games of the group stage the Gunners had no points and were due to face two games against Bayern Munich. Arsenal’s chances seemed dead and buried but they didn’t give up and showed great character to haul themselves back into contention.
Going into the final game Arsene Wenger’s side fate was in their own hands as they needed to win by two clear goals to go through. Still not many gave them a chance as although Olympiacos are a limited side, at home they had a formidable record.
The Gunners therefore needed to ride an early storm as the home side took the game to them, spurred on by a vociferous crowd. After twenty minutes the Gunners started to gain a foothold in the game and began to create goal scoring opportunities. Although at the end of the game Olivier Giroud came away with plenty of the plaudits having scored all three goals, it was two players deployed just behind the big Frenchman that held the key to this victory.
Mesut Ozil was once again at the heart of Arsenal’s attacking play, pulling the strings beautifully throughout and he was involved in each of the Gunners three goals. For the first it was Ozil’s through ball down the line which released Ramsey on the right flank and the Welshman’s pin point cross was headed goal wards by Giroud. The goalkeeper appeared to get his hand to the ball as it flew towards the near post, but could not stop the ball from bouncing into the net, off the back of his head.
The second goal owed much to Arsenal’s star man on the night Joel Campbell. The Costan Rican was returning to the stadium where he enjoyed a fruitful loan spell and displayed more of the skills which had thrilled the home fans during that year long loan. Campbell is fast developing into one of Arsenal’s star performers as he gains in confidence week after week. Powerful, quick and a bag of tricks, while also possessing the ability to pick out a pass, Campbell is exactly the kind of player Arsenal need in the final third. When Ozil picked him out with a great pass early in the second half, Campbell seemed isolated and surrounded by Olympiacos defenders. But he kept his composure and held onto the ball, showing great skill and awareness to shield the ball before spotting Giroud and then releasing a perfectly weighted pass, at the right moment for the Frenchman to run onto and fire home without needing to break stride. Giroud was congratulated by his teammates, but it was a goal which owed a great deal to Campbell, who was excellent throughout.
With Arsenal now two goals to the good, a consolation strike from Olympiacos would have seen the Gunners eliminated. It was therefore crucial to score a third and they did just that. Once again Ozil was involved as he picked up the ball in the area and forced the defender to handle leaving the referee with no choice but to award a penalty. With Cazorla out injured, up stepped Giroud to complete his hat trick with a cool, calm and confident penalty, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way and Arsenal into the last sixteen.
The Gunners had managed to come back from an almost impossible situation and received great praise for doing so. However one must take a step back and see the real picture. In truth Arsenal should have never allowed themselves to get into this position when faced with such a straight forward group. Coming second in the group was the very least expected from them and beating an average Olympiacos by three goals, albeit away from home, isn’t anything special. In the next round the Gunners will face Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletico Madrid, Wolfsburg or Zenith St Petersburg. This is when the competition really starts and once again Arsenal will most likely get knocked out at this stage of the competition.
Having said that the Gunners will take great confidence from salvaging their Champions League and it should serve them well for their next league game against Aston Villa. However if this European campaign has proven anything it is that Arsenal have a tendency to fall into complacency when faced with an opponent they are expected to beat. Faced with the team who currently occupy last place in the league and are favourites for relegation, Arsene Wenger’s side could well fall into that trap once more. The manager must ensure this does not happen because in a league as unpredictable as this one is turning out to be absolutely anything can happen. As Wenger himself has declared, the team that is most consistent will win the championship. This consistency is what Arsenal need to aim at now.