Arsenal 2 – 3 Olympiakos
0 – 1 Pardo (32)
1 – 1 Walcott (35)
1 – 2 Ospina o.g. (40)
2 – 2 Sanchez (67)
2 – 3 Finnbogason (68)
I am sure that among the many conversations over the summer, Arsène and Ivan both agreed that it would be good to break the cycle of Round of Sixteen exits in this season’s Champions League. After last night, Arsenal are well on course to meet that target. Fourth place is such a familiar feeling but as manager and players are about to find out, this one doesn’t come with any trophy, real or imaginary.
Qualification for the knockout phase, so often taken for granted, is a distant dream as Arsène surveys the wreckage of this defeat. It was a display which faltered on defensive errors and makes the route to Paris, paved as it was with defensive parsimony, seem a lifetime ago. The most Eurocentric of English club managers has once again found European competition to be his Achilles Heel.
Whilst David Ospina is capturing all the headlines, this defeat didn’t stem from one mistake. All of the Olympiakos goals were defensive errors. The first was the result of a failure to mark at a corner properly. Then came Ospina’s moment, a goal given by the fifth official on the day when I wondered what they did exactly and the decisive third, less than a minute after Alexis’ equaliser, was a complete lapse in concentration from the front to the back.
All three goals were entirely avoidable. All three goals were so Arsenal to concede.
Wenger stands accused of arrogance but this defeat isn’t solely down to that. It wasn’t a surprise to see Ospina in goal, we knew it was coming. Arsène said beforehand Petr Cech had a minor knock and needed to be fit for the weekend but in truth, the Colombian was already pencilled into most of our starting line-ups after the manager’s press conference pointed to it.
It was a calamitous moment in his Arsenal career. The catch looked straightforward and in his mind’s eye, David Ospina makes it every time. Perhaps that was the problem, his eye was elsewhere instead of focussed on the ball. The routine catch dropped, according to the fifth official, over the line. Instant judgements passed that the whole of the ball didn’t cross the line and misleading angles for photographs at once supported and undermined the officials. They don’t matter, the goal was given and blaming them distracts from a performance which may truly cost Arsenal dear.
Arsenal shouldn’t have conceded three, not at home to a Greek side which had lost its previous twelve visits to these shores. That’s history, a statistic to underline the defensive lapses which have cost so dear. Mesut Özil’s marking for the opening goal was non-existent; he was the player marking the edge of the area. Pardo’s shot echoed the career Frank Lampard forged from ricochets. Such is his luck at the moment, it came as no surprise to see it fly into the net off Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. When you are down, the footballing gods do like to kick you in the teeth.
The third was just appalling from the whole team. No pressing for the ball from the kick-off culminated in Cambiasso being given the time to pick his pass to capitalise on the disorganisation on the left side of the defence. The finish was simple, a striker getting ahead of the defender on the near post. Less than a minute from the restart to the back of the net. It isn’t good enough, not by any stretch of the imagination.
As if it wasn’t bad enough, Wenger’s brow furrowed further when Laurent Koscielny’s hamstring twanged. It was, Arsène contended, the result of the number of games played. That his squad are doing there utmost to reduce the fixture congestion will have done nothing to lighten the haunted grimace he wore on the touchline.
The backdrop to the season has been discontent with the lack of transfer activity, underlined by the minutes of the Supporters Forum recently published which, for the most part, focussed on that. Last night’s substitutes were the embodiment of that. Olivier Giroud’s suspension meant that Joel Campbell was the sole attacking option. This is a player whose Arsenal future has been shrouded in doubt since he signed.
Bright spots are few and far between. The two goalscorers stood out from too many distinctly average performances. Both Arsenal goals had something to admire in their creativity, in the simplicity of the passing and movement. Both were taken with aplomb but both are dulled by the defensive shadows cast.
Roberto in the Olympiakos goal made several superb second half saves but it felt too little, too late. For about twenty minutes in the first half, Arsenal didn’t manage a shot on target. You can’t win home games with that little attacking guile. When the match begged for sparkle, Arsenal’s key players couldn’t make the difference.
Four matches remain in the group stage. Twelve points are up for grabs and such is the perversity of recent years, they will probably salvage something from those fixtures. Yes, even the two against Bayern Munich. In the wreckage of last night, it seems hard to believe, I know, I scarcely give the notion any credence either. But football matches aren’t played on paper and anything can happen. We should know, it has in the opening two group games.
In reality, Arsenal are bottom of the table and face the very real prospect of being eliminated from the Champions League by the time Dinamo Zagreb roll into town in late-November. Two defeats at the hands – or feet – of Bayern Munich leave elimination from Europe as inevitable. At least it will spare us supporters the ignominy of taunts about Thursday Night Football. Every cloud, etc.