It would be fair to say that the performance last night wasn’t much to write home about, but when it comes to Champions League group stage matches very rarely do people look back in time to comment about how we played. The history books will show that Arsenal won, our 9th home win in our last 10 European games apparently, and that two debut goal scorers ensured Arsenal took the points.
The manager obviously had an eye on Sunday’s game against that lot by resting Robin van Persie, Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs, playing Marouane Chamakh, Tomas Rosicky and Andre Santos in their stead. I suppose it was something of a risk but if you can’t rotate against relatively weak opposition at home then when can you? As much as some players need rest, others need to play to try and find some form.
The other changes were brought about via injury, Oxlade-Chamberlain in for Walcott and Arshavin for Gervinho. And it was the young Englishman who got things off to a cracking start. He picked up a Song pass on his chest, rumbled on into the box then fired a left footed shot home to make it 1-0.
It really should have been 1-1 a few minutes later. Mikel Arteta got across to block a shot on the line from just a few yards out and his presence, along with Szczesny, put the attacker off the rebound which he poked wide from about 2 yards. It came after some truly woeful Arsenal defending. There was a lack of organisation from a corner, they had a free shot from the penalty spot and it was something of a taste to come.
Not before we went 2-0 up though. Rosicky played Santos down the left, he squared for Chamakh but Olympiacos defended it well. It came back to the Brazilian, he stepped past the defender and slotted home at the near post with his right foot. Two debut goalscorers, both of whom scored with their weaker foot. When’s the last time that happened? We should have been 3-0 up but when Arshavin’s pass found Chamakh with just the keeper to beat he bobbled his shot wide.
The Greeks could clearly see that we had organisational issues when defending corners and took full advantage to pull one back. The Ox was left with two on one after they took a short corner and when the cross came in their player just strolled into the box to nod it home. It was a catalogue of errors, the softest of goals to give away, and you do have to wonder if this zonal marking system is causing more problems than it’s solving.
I mean, this is basic stuff. Leaving a man two on one from a short corner is something that shouldn’t happen on a park pitch, let alone in the Champions League, and it just seems there’s confusion over who’s doing what and where they’re supposed to be. If we’re still struggling with it then maybe it’s time to simplify things, go man for man, and get back to doing the basics right.
The second half was better, in terms of our possession and our defensive solidity. A number of times Mertesacker got a big friendly leg on something and Alex Song showed real composure at the back on more than one occasion. We brought on van Persie and Ramsey for Chamakh and The Ox, then Gibbs to shore up the left side which was vulnerable and somewhat unprotected at times as Arshavin had another one of those games.
They had the best chance of the half, a left footed shot that crashed back off the crossbar. I genuinely thought that was going in but we got a bit of luck and I’ll take that all day long. As the clock ticked down it was a bit nervy but there’s confidence to be drawn not only from the result but that we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot again, late in a game.
That’s three wins in a row now and while there’s certainly work still to do there’s no doubt we’re moving in something approaching the right direction. As many pointed out last night Sky’s coverage focused entirely on how shaky we were at the back while little was said about United shipping a 2 goal lead to go 3-2 down against the might Basel the night before. I guess there’s a certain cushion that being top of the league and reigning champions gives you, but still. We battled for it and we won it. That’s all that matters.
Afterwards, Pat Rice (boss for the night), said:
You can’t turn around and say we had all of the game because that would be unfair. I thought Olympiacos played very, very well and whenever we go over there to play, one would like to think we would have qualified. Needless to say I think we will be very, very happy with the three points.
And on the eye-catching Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain:
From Arsenal supporters’ point of view, they are going to be seeing a lot of this boy. Whenever he breaks in permanently he has a big, big challenge to now get in front of Theo. I know that Theo is a very strong-willed guy as well and he won’t give in easy.
The young man declared himself ‘very proud’ of his first Champions League goal and so he should be. There were glimpses of real quality there but also, and quite understandably, some moments where his inexperience showed. I would hope that expectation levels aren’t raised too high too soon. He looks a real talent but let’s give him the time he needs to develop and understand that he’s going to have games that pass him by too.
I know many will have things to say about the performance, and without being blind to the fact we have areas that have to be improved, there really is nothing more important than results at the moment. We have to get some kind of momentum going and even if it is going to be interupted by an Interlull following Sunday’s game, it’s crucial that we maintain what we’ve started.
The players won’t have left that pitch unaware there were some dodgy moments, especially in the first half, but you can be sure that above all else they’ll have drawn confidence from a third successive win. It’s noteable, of course, that they’ve all come at home, and away we’ve been a touch less effective, but there’s no better place to put that right than White Hart Lane on Sunday.