Arsenal 3-1 Olympiacos: good enough in the end

Match reportBy the numbersVideo

Steve Bould continued his 100% record as the man in charge as Arsenal beat Olympiacos last night, but although the victory was merited we didn’t half make it hard for ourselves.

Gervinho’s 42nd minute goal should have been enough to see us go into the break ahead, but that big old self-destruct button at the back seemed irresistible and we immediately let them back into it. In the minutes following the goal we saw a careless pass by Thomas Vermaelen provide a decent shooting opportunity for the Greeks, followed by Oxlade-Chamberlain losing the ball in their half which led to the move for the goal. The man on the ball wasn’t closed down quickly enough and, as a centre-half of some repute, I’m sure Steve Bould was less than impressed at how Mitroglou got between Koscielny and Vermaelen to head into the far corner.

The first half was a struggle for a number of reasons. Heavy rain, opponents that were set up to frustrate us and to prevent Santi Cazorla getting on the ball in their half, but mostly because of our own sloppiness. Our passing was off, we tried to force it to make something happen and Bould admitted afterwards there may have been something of a hangover from the Chelsea game. If Gervinho’s goal was timely boost, the equaliser served to remind us there was a lot of work still to do.

Whatever the stand-in manager said at half-time had an effect, Arsenal were much better, played with more drive and intent, and an early chance for Cazorla, set up by the live-wire Gervinho, should have seen us go in front. It didn’t take long for that to happen though, when Podolski’s turn and shot, again after good work from the Ivorian, squeezed through legs and into the back of the net to make it 2-1.

We should have been further ahead when Laurent Koscielny somehow headed Mikel Arteta’s free kick over the bar from 6 yards out and although the lead was hardly comprehensive, Olympiacos were pretty well shackled and restricted to long shots which didn’t really cause us any bother. There’s always the worry that a one goal lead isn’t quite enough, which might explain why Thomas Vermaelen was the man almost on the end of a Theo Walcott cross which fizzed across the 6 yard box. By the same token I can’t be the only one worried that the captain’s lack of positional discipline could end up costing us more dearly against better opposition.

There was a moment very late in the game when we looked to break out from the back, Vermaelen went steaming forward, the move broke down and thankfully Arteta had noticed and sat back a bit and we retained the ball; but at 2-1 up with just a couple of minutes to go it’s madness for a central defender to go marauding up the pitch to try and get a goal we don’t need. As I said, perhaps it’s a sign of his lack of belief that we could see the game out with a one goal lead, but more likely it’s just his gung-ho nature and really, somebody needs to have a word. I’m all for his forays forward at the right time, they’re often very effective and his desire to make things happen is admirable, but, after a week in which his rash tackles proved costly, he needs to add more discipline to his game.

Olivier Giroud came on with around ten minutes to go and in that brief period could have scored twice and provided an assist for our third. His first chance, a deft flick after a good run to get on the end of a Walcott cross was well saved, and when set up by Santi Cazorla it looked as if his shot was going in before hitting a defender who knew little about it. He then won the flick on which set up Ramsey’s chance and Welshman’s deliciously scoopy finish from inside the area was absolutely first class and sealed the game for us. A win I think we deserved on the balance of play, but there are things we can do better all the same.

Afterwards, Steve Bould said:

They made it really tough for us and defended really well. We started not too badly, but then looked nervous. Overall, though, it was a fantastic result.

It probably knocked our confidence to lose to Chelsea. Now we can get back on track.

He was also quick to praise Gervinho who got his 5th goal of the season (great @Orbinho stat Gervinho has scored five goals from five shots on target in all competitions), gave an assist for Podolski and created a great chance for Cazorla. The Ivorian is a frustrating player, no doubt about it, and I’m still never quite sure what he’s going to do with it when he gets it, but for all that he deserves real credit for his start to the season. He’s our top scorer, works really hard, and has added some end product to his game. It may well be a nice little purple patch but fair play to him all the same.

Again, both full backs were excellent. Gibbs looks much more solid defensively and Jenkinson’s improvement continues apace, and although midfield struggled at times I thought we did well enough in there. There was a worrying moment late on when Coquelin looked to have twanged something in his knee and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we had some bad news about him ahead of the West Ham game on Saturday. Fingers crossed that’s not the case.

I thought Giroud showed in his late cameo that he’s got something to offer that nobody else in the team can provide. His movement is good and although he can’t buy a goal at the moment if he keeps it up they’ll surely start going in. I suspect he wasn’t used from the start last night because of the game at the weekend. Playing against a team managed by the Walrus will mean we have to be physically at our best and his strength and power could well be useful at both ends of the pitch, but there was enough, even in ten minutes or so last night, to be encouraging.

Per Mertesacker missed the game through illness meaning the Vermscielny Axis continued at the heart of the defence and again they were unconvincing at times. We’ve touched on Vermaelen’s lack of self-control and at nearly 27 years of age it’s a bit of a worry. You don’t want to inhibit the parts of his game which are naturally good but he does need to remember that it’s the team that’s most important. Meanwhile Koscielny was better than against Chelsea but could have seen red in the first half for fairly wild challenge – we’ve seen refs in Europe and the Premier League deal more harshly with tackles like those in the past. I think there was a realisation on the ref’s part that it was a slippy pitch, not to mention he got some ball along with a big chunk of man.

However, as much as we talk about Mertesacker plus one being the ideal combination for Arsenal, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable expectation that Koscielny and Vermaelen find a way to play together more effectively. I don’t think they’re exactly chalk and cheese, or two north ends of a magnet as I saw someone say on Twitter (sorry, can’t remember who), but clearly they have work harder with each other than they do when lining up alongside the BFG. Anyway, these are the things that many teams have to work on throughout seasons and that’s very much the case here.

Overall though, a pleasing result, a much better second half and it sets us up nicely for the weekend’s endeavours which take us, sadly, into another Interlull. Six points were the target this week, we’re halfway there.

Finally for today, congratulations to Lisa Fusella, you’ve won yourself the fantastic Highbury print in our competition. Thanks to everyone for your entries and if you fancy picking one up yourself, check out miniboro.com for details on how to purchase them etc.

Till tomorrow.

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