Reaction to Olympiacos defeat: “Are you free Thursdays?”

Dear dear. What a night. Here are a couple of written pieces in reaction to a truly awful result:

  • The Mirror: ‘Arsenal’s Champions League failure is down to attitude, not ability’
  • Unibet: ‘Why Arsenal can’t afford to be sniffy about the Europa League’

All very familiar. On to the next one: Manchester United on Sunday.

 

Olympiacos 2 -1 Arsenal: Nothing to see here

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

I really don’t have anything very interesting to say about this game…
I watched it, and it was relatively entertaining.  But I couldn’t take it seriously.  Arsene patently wasn’t too bothered himself, and so it was very hard to get emotionally involved in it.  I enjoyed elements of our performance and the goal we scored – this was certainly a better display, even with a weakened XI, than we saw against Swansea or Villa – but it never felt truly competitive.  It’s a shame not to win the group, but there are dangers on either side of the draw.

Tomas Rosicky was probably our best player…
…so it speaks volumes about how much of a priority the match was for Arsene that he took Rosicky off at half-time.  Perhaps he’s considering throwing the Czech in for the game at West Brom – he adds some much-needed tempo to our game.  I’d consider including him as part of the trio behind Olivier Giroud.

Jernade Meade was impressive again…
I liked the little left-back’s cameo at Reading, and he did extremely well on Tuesday considering he was making his first start in senior football away from home in the Champions League.  I’m told he’s a full three inches shorter than Santi Cazorla, which is frankly ridiculous, but he stood tall on the night with an energetic and confident display.  He was helped by the performance of Thomas Vermaelen  alongside him, who has shown a significant improvement since returning to centre-back.

We’ll be seeing a lot of these players again within a week…
I’m sure many of these guys will be in action again in the League Cup tie with Bradford City.  They can’t afford to lose then – that looks by far our most realistic hope of a trophy this season.

Olympiacos Preview: A chance for Arshavin to show what he could offer?

This is not a game I’m hugely looking forward to…
Arsene talks about picking a side capable of winning.  I have no doubt the team he’ll pick is statistically capable of victory, but he’s made it very clear it’s not his priority, and when a manager does that the players often respond with a lacklustre display.  A few weeks ago he spoke of going to win this game and subsequently the group.  Now, with our league form faltering, he’s taken the opportunity to rest a host of key players ahead of the game with West Brom on Saturday.  It’s a decision I’m in favour of: I’m not sure that winning the group brings with it a sufficient advantage to warrant persisting with a drained first XI.

There are reprieves for neglected members of the squad…
The likes of Arshavin and Chamakh haven’t even made the bench in the last couple of games, and are now set to start.   Even though both are clearly heading to the exit door, you have to think there’s a chance for them to show they have something to offer in the remaining Premier League games before January.  Some players, however, are in purely because of a lack of alternatives.  Somehow, I don’t foresee it being a problem that Sebastien Squillaci is about to become cup-tied in the Champions League.

There are a couple of obvious youngsters missing from that squad…
Thomas Eisfeld and Damian Martinez are closer to the first-team squad than many of the players who will be involved tonight, but due to a quirk of the registration process are not actually available for Champions League selection.  Eisfeld is likely to get a further chance to impress in next week’s Carling Cup tie with Bradford City.  Nevertheless, it’ll good to see youngsters like Jernade Meade get a run-out – I was impressed with the quick left-back’s cameo at Reading.  Keep an eye out too for Chuba Akpom – the 17 year old may not make it off the bench, but is highly thought of among the coaching staff and a nifty goalscorer at youth level.

Get well soon, Peter Hill-Wood…
While I’ll admit the Chairman might’ve made the odd PR gaffe, it’s impossible to question the distinction and commitment with which he has served Arsenal Football Club.  He represents an important connection to the club’s history – a connection that is growing ever thinner – so I hope he recovers fully and is able to return to his post as soon as possible.

Wilshere & Giroud can kick this team on to another level

When you last heard from me, I was cursing Olivier Giroud for what I saw as a costly late miss against Chelsea.  Since then, both he and Arsenal have been significantly rehabilitated.  The team bounced back with 3-1 wins over Olympiakos and West Ham, with Giroud grabbing an assist in each and a goal in the latter.

Perhaps I should go away more often.  I saw most of the Olympiacos game and highlights of the West Ham match.  The Champions League tie was typical of most Arsenal group stage games – we got ourselves in a bit of trouble with the usual defensive sloppiness, but pulled through thanks to our overwhelming attacking power.  The pace at which we attack is often too much for sides in Europe.  It tends to be at the back that we undo ourselves – see Milan last year for the perfect example.

West Ham was a real test – Carroll and Nolan are handle for any side, particularly one as aerially vulnerable as ours – but we got the breaks and continued to play our football.  Santi Cazorla was, of course, instrumental.  His thumping third goal was great, but the turn, spin and pass inside his own half to set Giroud away to set up Theo’s crucial strike was in some ways even more impressive.  We were reassured also by the return of Per Mertesacker, although a worrying trend is developing in our defence.

It was well publicised that in Arsenal’s first three games of the season they kept three clean sheets.  Steve Bould was declared as a defensive deity, and all was as rosy as a bank account named by Harry Redknapp at the back.  Well, since then, Arsenal have conceded at least a goal in each of the following seven games – many of which have been from crosses.

The lesson there, I suppose, is that we should not in such a hurry to judge performances.  The same lesson could be applied to Olivier Giroud, who is showing some encouraging form.  Against Olympiacos he was used as an impact substitute, and was desperately unlucky not to score with two good efforts, although he did head on expertly for Aaron Ramsey to chip home.  Against West Ham, he started as much for defensive reasons as offensive ones, but grabbed a real strikers goal, playing a one-two with Lukas Podolski before toeing the German’s cross home.  It’s clear he’s feeling a lot better about things, and he continued his momentum with a crucial headed equaliser for France against Spain in midweek.  What’s important now is that he gets a run of games – as impressed as I’ve been with Gervinho’s efforts upfront, having a genuine centre-forward would improve this team immeasurably.

I feel the same about Jack Wilshere.  I know we’re supposed to be cautious and protective, but I just know how much he’ll be able to add to the side.  He’s tantalisingly close now, and whilst this weekend has come soon I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the bench for next Saturday’s game against QPR before starting in the Carling Cup at Reading.

Things are looking up.  We have several very winnable games before the next ‘season-defining’ clash with Man United at Old Trafford.  It’s a good time to be back.  For me, Olivier, and Jack.

 

Arsenal 2 – 1 Olympiacos: Arsenal Avoid Greek Tragedy

santoswide

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wheels away after opening the scoring against Olympiacos

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s Pat’s reaction

Arsenal picked up their first win of the Champions League group stage last night, meaning we were the only English side to win in Europe’s premier competition this week.  We also now have more Champions League points than Manchester City and Manchester United combined.

Arsene gambled a little with his team selection, and got away with it.  I support his decision, and would have done even if it had backfired.  We have a huge squad now, as the fact that even with the amount of injuries we’re carrying we were able to rest players demonstrates.  The XI he picked was plenty strong enough to win this game at home.

With that said, I think we all may have been guilty of underestimating Olympiacos a little.  Granted, we don’t see much of them in England, but I thought they were great last night – all technically capable, and organised too.  They were smart in their tactical play, looking to break against our attacking midfield, and closing down Mikel Arteta whenever he got the ball.  Their goal was the result of some intelligent thinking: recognising that we’re adapting to a new zonal marking system, they threw a spanner in the works by taking short corners.  Frankly, we looked as if he hadn’t covered that situation in training yet.

They looked the more dangerous side for long periods of the game, but fortunately we were already two goals ahead thanks to strikes from two recent signings.  First, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continued his impression adaptation to top-level football by dribbling inside from the right and firing left-footed across the goalkeeper to become the youngest ever English goalscorer in the Champions League.  The second and third youngest, in case you’re wondering, are Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere.

Andre Santos’ goal also came off his wrong foot.  He galloped forward to meet a Tomas Rosicky through-ball, but his cross for Chamakh was cut out.  When the ball rebounded back to the cavalier left-back, he skipped in side his man and knocked a right-footed effort in at the keeper’s near post.

We did struggle to retain possession at times – Emmanuel Frimpong looking particularly raw in midfield – and Olympiacos gave us the fright of our lives by striking the crossbar from range in the second-half with an effort that probably deserved better – but we held out for the win.

There were plenty of positives for me, particularly with the makeshift centre-half pairing of Song and Mertesacker.  Song was tenacious and calm on the ball, and the German had his best game in an Arsenal shirt.  I’ve noticed an interesting trend in his play: unlike most Arsenal centre-halves, he doesn’t charge straight towards the ball.  At times he backs away or runs in to an area which seems to make no sense – only to be perfectly positioned to clear when the cross comes in.  He’s economical and efficient – at times last night he knew when his best option was just to boot the thing away.

I also felt Santos played well, and the battle between he and Kieran Gibbs looks set to run and run.  Santos has a remarkable upright dribbling style – his touch is immaculate and last night he showed some steel to match the flair.

It’d be impossible not to mention Chamberlain.  Although I felt he faded before being withdrawn on the hour mark, it’s clear we’ve got a huge talent here.  The most obvious comparisons to make are with Theo Walcott – not just because of their Southampton heritage, but because they’re competing for the same spot in the team.  Last night Pat Rice said:

“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. It all bodes well for England anyway.”

For England – and, more to the point, for Arsenal.

In summary: we won.  United’s home draw with Basel shows how treacherous these games against ‘lesser’ opposition can be.  The Greek league is significantly stronger than the Swiss, and we came out on top.  I’m happy with that and you ought to be too.