Olympiakos 2 – 1 Arsenal
0 – 1 Rosicky (38)
1 – 1 Maniatis (65)
2 – 1 Mitroglou (72)
Michel Platini was adamant that the officials behind the goal negated the need for technological aids to referees. As time passes, they are proving the case for technology, last night another witness for the prosecution. How a man three to six feet away from the incident can get a decision so utterly wrong is baffling. It isn’t that the Assistant failed to tell the referee it was a goal-kick rather than a corner, it’s the fact that if he is getting a decision such as that wrong from that close, how can any decisions he gives be relied on? The referee had the excuse of distance and potentially obscured view but not the Assistant. And that’s not to excuse the defending from the corner either.
As it was, Arsenal can go into next week’s League Cup tie at Bradford in relatively good heart. The team worked hard and for spells, even Squillaci and Chamakh dropped hints that they might be able to pull off a performance. In fairness to them both, not having much of a look-in for the first team is not conducive to playing well at the first opportunity and overall, they weren’t bad, they just offered nothing to change your mind about them. Which is quite good really, to have not reinforced opinions, isn’t it? It is, isn’t it?
But the real positives came in form of Jernade Meade who was utterly unruffled by the occasion and the appalling passes that were made to him by his own players; overhit, underhit, the youngster showed no fear in the tackle and a lot of commonsense in dealing with defensive pressure. A young man very much for the future, a genuine presence to put pressure on Kieran Gibbs over time, if he continues to develop along these lines. Preferrably not such high defensive lines as well. Noticeably, Arsenal played a little deeper last night, no doubt to compensate for Squillaci’s ageing legs and only when the back four moved higher up the pitch did he really struggle with the forwards.
Arsenal started brightly enough, the Ivorian running into one of the numerous blind alleys he found during the course of the match, blazing over when the opportunity glinted. It also set the tone for the evening; a lot of purposeful running on his point with little end product, successfully isolating himself with his meanderings. When it went right, the offerings were there, Coquelin spurning the chance to open the scoring.
Defensively, Arsenal were put under pressure but not with any real intent as Squillaci dealt with any high balls into the area, Vermaelen the same with low crosses. A mismatched pair were against the odds, pulling the back four into shape. And when they failed, Szczesny was there, a formidable barrier to the hosts as they sought to repeat the victory they achieved in the corresponding fixture last season.
All the while Rosicky purred in midfield, giving an object lesson in midfield play, in leading the side. The Czech international was influential over the whole of match, clearing off the line from a set-piece as well as prodding and probing. The kind of influence that has been sorely missing in recent months, the provoking play which makes a key difference to the team. At half-time, Arsenal were top of the group and certeris paribus, avoiding the likes of Barcelona and Dortmund. His substitution was not in the same league as Sir Alf withdrawing Bobby Charlton at Mexico ’70 but no less influential on the outcome. With Rosicky missing, Olympiakos seemed emboldened or was it that Arsenal were less composed?
It was the Czech who broke the deadlock. Gervinho followed a route not dissimilar to that of an Athenian taxi driver on his way from the airport, all around the Greek statues, reached the goal-line and for once, crucially, raised his head, picked Rosicky out and the Czech calmly stroked the ball home. It was no less than Arsenal deserved.
Of course, Arsenal being Arsenal, we were left rueing chances missed. Aaron Ramsey’s efficient midfield display is lost amid recriminations about his air-kick with a very presentable opportunity in the Greek penalty area and misfortune in being unable to control a ricochet off his chest in his own area, costly in that Maniatis bundled the ball home for the equaliser. To focus on those points only is to seek to justify a perspective; it ignores the Welshman thriving in his central midfield position alongside Rosicky. Playing his natural role, he was a willing and capable worker, supporting Meade on the left defensively as well providing the Czech with a ready supply line of possession. Lest anyone thinks that’s a joke, you try working with the unpredictable Gervinho.
The second half started well enough, it was just ticking over nicely until the misadventures which led to Maniatis’ equaliser. After that, there did not seem to be any inkling of where a winner would come from. The arrival of Arshavin heralded promise and might have delivered on that too, were it not for the firm fist applied to his shot by Carroll. Olympiakos took hope from the goal, Djebbour missed what appeared to be a simple chance, heading wide from close range. Mitroglou punished the space he was afforded on the edge of the area with a spinning, curling effort beyond the unsighted Szczesny in the Arsenal goal and the all too familiar feeling of defeat finally surfaced.
Another defeat is poor for morale, allowing a mindset to take hold. The failure to hold onto a lead is problematic for all Arsenal sides it seems. There were times when the performance looked ponderous, there were others when it looked very much a comfortable away victory. That has so far been the story of this season’s Champions League campaign. At the end of the evening, the charms of Barcelona, Paris, Dortmund and Malaga beckon, in all likelihood joined by potential trips to Donetsk or Munich. No-one said it would be easy but are some of those any harder than Madrid, Milan, Oporto, Valencia, Lisbon or Turin? Not really, there are preferential ties in either case and at some point, you have to play a good team to progress.