Most people probably had same reaction when they saw Arsenal’s squad list for Athens: “He (Wenger) doesn’t think he can win it.” Among 18 names listed for the trip to Greece there were some players that an average Arsenal fan probably wouldn’t recognize if they were driving next to him in the bus wearing Arsenal equipment. Still, there were some experienced players with them as well so the squad that was led by captain Thomas Vermaelen on the pitch in Piraeus tonight wasn’t exactly U21. I have considered this Wenger’s call as the right one given that even our top eleven wouldn’t be a safe bet for victory in Greece and there is a more important match against WBA coming this weekend. Even then, with hypothetical victory over Olympiacos, we would have to pray for Montpellier to take at least one point against Schalke.
The truth is, Arsene Wenger gambled a bit tonight and we will not know whether it was a good move until the knock-out stage draw and Arsenal’s outcome this coming weekend. So far his compatriots from Montpellier did a lot to make him look wrong. The French side managed to hold Schalke to a draw for a second time this season which means Arsenal would have topped Group B if they had won in Greece. Given that Paris Saint-Germain won their group by beating Porto 2:1, the rich French side is possible opponent to us in Knockout Stage as well as Malaga and Borussia Dortmund who secured top spots in their groups respectively. At this point, none of aforementioned teams looks like an opponent that we can beat.
Tonight we could have taken the lead from the very start. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chamakh and Gervinho combined with the last taking a shot. After a dry period, the Greek side was the first to create a dangerous situation in-front of opponents’ goal. Djebbour’s cross destined for Abdoun’s execution was intercepted by Vermaelen. On the other side of the pitch, it was Ramsey that wasted a chance prepared by Oxlade-Chamberlain and Chamakh. It was rather quiet match until 37th minute when Gervinho did an excellent job on the right side of attack utlizing his trickery followed by a back-pass to on-running Rosicky. The Czech midfielder – who made his first start for the Gunners this season – powered it in the right side of Carroll’s net. That goal was the only one in the first half. Given that Montpellier and Schalke couldn’t find each other’s net, we were sitting on the top of the group at half-time.
Wenger didn’t want to lose Rosicky due to some sort of injury, I presume, and he took off his arguably best player in the first half and replaced him with Arshavin. The Russian had a first chance in the second half after Chamakh’s cross but the score didn’t change. The Greeks didn’t just sit and wait for our second goal. Abdoun and Djebbour were again dangerous combination with the latter one wasting opportunity created by the former. Arshavin nearly punished Djebbour’s miss but Carroll saved his shot destined for the right corner of the net. And then, after a corner was gifted to Olympiacos (Sczszesny didn’t touch the ball headed by Machado), the hosts equalized. Just like Murphy’s Law No. 398.981 (also known as: “The one about Arsenal defending set-pieces”) said, our defensive set-up couldn’t keep out the ball after the corner – the cross from the right side of our defense, about 10 yards from our penalty box, came straight to the head of Maniatis who used Ramsey’s chest as his mantinelle and then picked up the ball and put it past Sczszesny. Our game pretty much collapsed and it is a good thing we didn’t get any red cards tonight.
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Djebbour had another chance a couple minutes later but his header missed the target. However, Olympiacos didn’t have to wait to long for second goal. Substitution Mitroglu that went in for Abdoun scored with first attempt during his first minute on the pitch. He was basically on the same spot from which the cross that preceded first goal was sent. He ran past Jenkinson who was giving him too much space and fired a curling shot past Sczszesny. It was a goal similar to the one we conceded against Everton given that Sczszesny saw the ball too late and tried to save it only when it was few inches from him. Mitroglu’s goal pretty much closed this match and ended our hopes of reaching the top spot of the group after all. Maybe it wouldn’t be fair to Schalke, who managed to take four points against us, which means they were better team in direct encounters. It’s interesting to notice that two players – Kostas Mitroglu (Olympiacos) and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke 04) – scored in both fixtures against us.
on the game…
We had a good first half. We dropped physically in the second half because many players lack competition at that level and therefore we couldn’t take the chances for the second goal.
on Olympiacos’ first goal…
We also got a very bad decision against us on the goal. Wojciech was far away from the ball.
I don’t want to make a fuss of it but it’s difficult to concede a corner when it doesn’t go off the goalkeeper. But we have to take it on the chin and go home and focus on our next game.
on Tomas Rosicky…
He has not played for six months and we were cautious with him. We decided before the game to play for 45 minutes and see how he got on. He’s a bit tight, muscular, but no injury. We’ll see how we recovers now for Saturday.
on the young players…
I feel you discover the young players in these kind of competitions [and games like the one] we had tonight. They have the quality. If everybody is fit we have a strong squad but in certain areas, of course when you have players like Diaby and Rosicky not fit, we are a bit short because we cannot rotate. We’ll see where we stand on January 1 and see what we do.
on the draw…
We need a good Christmas present now [in the draw]. We’ll see. The disadvantage we have is we play the second game away, but it’s not statistically proven it’s a disadvantage. The important thing now is to focus on the Premier League and forget about the Champions League. [We need to] get ourselves back in decent form in the Premier League.
on Kostas Mitroglou…
Mitroglou scored two great goals. The first one in London was a great header and tonight was a fantastic goal as well, I must say. I won’t say more because if I do you’ll think I want to buy him.
Jenkinson Squillaci Vermaelen (c) Meade
Wojciech Sczszesny | 6.0: It is hard to judge whether he is at fault for the second goal or not, but his reaction seemed a little slow. Maybe he should do more on organizing defense when Mertesacker doesn’t play or Vermaelen doesn’t do that properly. His distribution could have been better.
Carl Jenkinson | 5.0: Both goals for the Greeks started from the right side of our defense. He gave Mitroglu way too much space on the second goal.
Sebastian Squillaci | 5.5: Wasn’t as horrible as we would normally expect, although in saying this he could have been sent off.
Thomas Vermaelen | 6.5: He can do it much better. It seems he lacks organizing skills and can’t encourage his troops and help them restore faith in themselves. Made an excellent clearance in the first half.
Jernade Meade | 7.0: A surprisingly decent debut in the Champions’ League (Meade made a cameo against Reading in Capital One Cup). Look a bit puffed in the second half, but he could be a solution for our left side.
Francis Coquelin | 5.5: Average performance or a bit worse than that. He can’t be a bullet-proof shield for his defenders and his final pass to attackers is not exactly top of the game either. I think we sent the wrong defensive midfielder on loan, Frimpong would at least bring some spark.
Tomas Rosicky| 7.5: He pulled all the strings in the first half and rounded a decent first half-performance with his first goal of the season. He could be an asset in the forthcoming fixtures.
Aaron Ramsey | 5.0: Did something before Gervinho created the goal. Inconsistent and unlucky – he got the ball when he didn’t want it (when Maniatis had hit him before equalizer) but he didn’t get it when he asked for it (Gervinho decided to pass it to Rosicky despite Ramsey begging for it). It is a pity that our manager would never send him on a longer loan. Maybe one year away would make Ramsey a top player.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain | 5.5: Another performance that everyone will forget. He possesses an enormous talent but it seems that either Arsene Wenger can’t handle it or Oxlade-Chamberlain can’t understand what he should do with it.
Gervinho | 6.0: Created our only goal and proved he can do a lot of good things for us with his dribbling abilities. However, it happens too rarely and that’s why he irritates a lot of people.
Chamakh| 6.0: Looked lively for almost an hour, was better creating of chances for his team-mates than being danger for Carroll himself. He has some quality, that is out of the question. The only problem is, it’s not good enough for Arsenal ambitions. Match against Bradford could be another chance for him to prove otherwise.
Andrey Arshavin | 5.0: Wasted a couple of chances and didn’t fill Rosicky’s boots properly despite playing on his favourite position.
Martin Angha | N/A: He will remember this match, that’s for sure.
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