Arsenal:3 Olympiakos:1 Match Report

Goals: Gervinho (42),  Mitroglou (45), Podolski (56), Ramsey (90+4)

Arsenal continued with their winning start in the Champions League group stage, despite looking unconvincing against a resilient Olympiakos side.

Arsenal Line-Up

Arsenal lined up with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Vito Mannone started at the goal. Vermaalen was paired with Laurent Koscielny at the center of the defence. Carl Jenkinson started at right back, and Kieran Gibbs was at left back. In central midfield, Mikel Arteta was paired with Francis Coquelin as Diaby was injured. Cazorla occupied the advanced midfield position. Oxlade-Chamberlain was on the right and  Podolski was on the left side of attack. Gervinho played as the central striker.

The Game

In the early stages, Olympiakos quickly settled into a disciplined defensive shape, and Arsenal found it quite difficult to pose any threat going forward. In Arsenal’s midfield, while Arteta did his anchoring job with the usual excellence, Coquelin was not able to perform the required penetrating role effectively. The slow ball circulation in Arsenal’s center forced Cazorla to drop deeper to facilitate the moves forward, which allowed the Greek side to easily tighten up the area in front of their box. The visitors’ confidence in their narrow shape increased throughout the first half. This narrow shape invited the two Arsenal full backs Gibbs and Jenkinson to push forward, but time and time again the crosses they delivered into the box yearned for a real target man, who Gervinho was not. Past the half hour mark, Arsenal had not carved out any real chances except Cazorla’s free-kick from the right edge of the box, which was tipped over by Megyeri. Despite their defensive focus, it was Olympiakos who created the best chance of the first half after a neat move on their right. Maniatis’ inviting cross was incredibly missed in the six yard box by Machado.

Arsenal were desperately looking out of ideas, but they took the lead three minutes from half time. Cazorla linked up with Podolski on the left, and the German’s low cross found Arteta at the edge of the penalty box. A defensive challenge put the loose ball in front of Gervinho who fired a rather tame shot. Megyeri should have done better as the ball went into the net under his late dive.

As if to prove that they did not deserve to take the lead, Arsenal continued to look sluggish as Vermaalen gave the ball away in front of his box under no pressure, but Olympiakos could not capitalize. They did, however, equalize in the extra time of the first half, when Kostas Mitroglou got in between Koscielny and Vermaalen to glance a great header inside the far post after Jenkinson allowed Greco to send in a measured cross from Arsenal’s right.

Arsenal started the second half with more dynamism. First, Gervinho’s cutback from the left was missed by Cazorla. Soon after, Gervinho again found space on the left. His initial cross was blocked, but when the ball came back to the Ivorian, his neat cutback was picked up by Podolski in the box who smashed the ball under Megyeri with a fierce shot on the turn.

Arsenal were in control after taking the lead, as Olympiakos started pressing higher up the pitch and gave up their vigilant and compact shape.  The home side also looked more composed defensively in this second half, restricting Olympiakos to mainly shots from distance, and found a string of chances to extend their lead themselves. First, Koscielny could not direct his header into the net inside the six yard box after Arteta’s wonderful delivery from a set piece. The late substitute Giroud, who looked very lively during his 10 minutes in the game, got at the end of a cross by Walcott (another energetic substitute), but the Frenchman’s attempt was well saved by Megyeri.  Moments later, Ramsey (also a late substitute) combined brilliantly with Cazorla on the left,  but Giroud’s one time shot from the Spaniard’s cutback was blocked by Siovas on its way into the net.  In the dying minutes of the game, Giroud’s headed flick was collected by Ramsey, who burst into the box and dinked the ball past Megyeri to add some gloss to the scoreline.

Conclusion

In the first half, Arsenal lacked ideas in attack and looked fragile and uncertain at the back. Yet, they were able to raise their tempo in the second half to get the job done.  The Vermaalen-Koscielny partnership again looked unconvincing, especially because of Vermaalen’s lack of positional discipline.  The Belgian’s attacking urge sometimes borders on pure madness. Coquelin and Arteta pairing did not seem to work well in the first half either, mainly due to the French midfielder’s reluctance to push forward with the ball, which slowed down Arsenal’s tempo. The second half was much better, especially because Olympiakos started taking risks after Podolski’s early goal, and Cazorla started influencing the game with more ease. Overall, it was a pleasing result, yet worrying signs at the defense continued to emerge.

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