Arsenal 3 – 1 Olympiakos
1 – 0 Gervinho (42)
1 – 1 Mitrologou (45)
2 – 1 Podolski (56)
3 – 1 Ramsey (90)
Arsenal won last night and opened a two-point advantage over their next opponents, Schalke, thanks to the German side’s 2 – 2 draw at home with Montepellier. It was not a fantastic performance, it was distinctly average. You can tell that from Steve Bould‘s post-match assessment,
This is a results industry and we got the result. We ground it out. I don’t think they had too many chances, we limited them to a few and we could have perhaps scored a few more so without being fantastic we’ve had a great result.
I believe “Job done” fits but this morning sees criticism of the performance overshadowing a win which came on the back of the squad’s first defeat of the season. It was crucial to see how they reacted, too often in the past their predecessors have stumbled and stuttered following a key match in which they have lost. Surely it is an improvement to have stumbled and stuttered to victory? No, I have just checked and apparently it is not.
Arsenal were not at their best, no-one denies that. In the early stages, passes were overhit, overplayed and over the touchline. But there was more cohesion in this corner of rainswept north London than is being given credit for, simply that the indecision was more noticeable because it was being looked for. Dividends nearly paid in that sense as Mannone and Vermaelen were not on the same wavelength, surprisingly given the duo have been consistently selected this season, injury aside.
Once the cobwebs were swept away, Arsenal assumed the ascendency with width being key to breaking down a well-organised Greek side. Gibbs and Jenkinson took their opportunity to impress the watching England manager with attacking support and defensive maturity. Gibbs created the opportunity for Arsenal’s first genuine attempt on goal, fouled and the resultant free kick rasped goalward before a fingertip intervention sent it to safety. That proved to be the peak of the initial burst as the wind deflated slowly from the sails as the home side became subdued by the visitors organisation. It allowed the Greeks to become more of a threat – or maybe less neutered would be a better view.
Mitroglou saw his shot saved by Mannone whilst Machado proved that it was easier to score than to miss by incorporating tremendous technique into his miss. But as the Greeks grew in confidence they lost some of their shape and Arsenal were able to exploit on the counter-attack, as the opening goal proved. Gibbs probed once more on the left before Arteta invited the defence beyond the area, tackled but the ball broke to Gervinho who made space and drilled home. Not as sumptuous a finish as Saturday but who cares? Quite how the comparisons with Thierry Henry arose in Bould’s press conference after the match is beyond my humble mind and I am sure that the reports of the Assistant Manager’s response have missed out the gales of laughter before he composed himself. Joy or relief, whatever emotion the bench felt, was shortlived with Mitroglou’s header bringing the visitors level before the interval.
The second period saw Arsenal begin with more purpose, manifesting in Cazorla’s early effort and Podolski’s goal ten minutes after the restart. Gervinho’s evening got better as he provided the cross – at the second attempt – from which Podolski blazed home. It could have been more; it should have been more very quickly. Koscielny had his traditional early season wobble on Saturday and its easy miss counterpart last night, heading over from close range. Walcott and Giroud came on but as was the case on Saturday, the England international offered little invention. For his own career, he needs to resolve his contract quickly. Whilst he is young enough to recover from a lost season, the damage to his reputation is being done with cameos that offer little. He must look at Gervinho’s contribution this season and think that it might have been himself in this vein of form. Declaring one way or the other is the best thing he can do rather than inhabiting some ethereal no-man’s land; not quite a super-sub but nowhere near as sure a starter as he was. Will he ever occupy that certainty of place in the side again?
The scoring finished in the final minute. Aaron Ramsey has as many detractors as Walcott but continues to plug away, improving his performances, maturing and his finish as the match entered the death throes was as exquisite as anything Carlos Vela produced in his time at the club. In the end, the two goal margin of victory was probably a fair reflection of the game but the stuttering nature of the central defensive performance, certainly in the first half, underlines the need for a settled pairing as opposed to the policy of picking the defenders to match with the attackers. Sometimes that will be required but more often than not, form will need to be the dictating factor.
In Arsenal’s case, the question is whether Koscielny and Vermaelen are just reacquainting themselves with each other’s game following the seemingly unending flow of interruptions or if the partnership is formed of players too similar in technique. Certainly Mertesacker has been the form centre back and was only missing through illness last night. Virus is this seasons ligament apparently. Vermaelen is being criticised in some quarters for a lack of concentration and to some extent that is true; a rashness has crept into his game this season or has it always been there and now it is being punished. I am unconvinced by the argument that he is only in the side because his is captain; I don’t buy that. This season there is a more ruthless steak showing through in the manager and the armband has been abused by the Belgian’s predecessors; Wenger has been hurt by the betrayals on a personal level, something that is only natural. With his own antipathy towards the role of the captain – he certainly doesn’t place as much importance on it as supporters do – I don’t think he will think thrice in omitting Vermaelen if his form drops.
As it is, I think that step is some time away. But let’s remember Bould’s words. It’s a results industry and Arsenal have won. Enjoy. Please.