Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gutted in Greece, Olympiacos 3-1 Arsenal

Its a rare thing in football to have a match you don't need to win.  Arsenal had previously secured the top spot in Group F of the Champions League and its a good thing because they absolutely got thrashed by Olympiacos on Tuesday.  Despite their vibrant display, the Greek champions were eliminated due to Marseille's late comeback in Dortmund.  So the loss proved a disappointment for both sides, but at least the Greeks had the satisfaction of a job well done.

The evening at a glance...
Arsenal fielded a side not unlike their Carling Cup lineup, with a mix of experienced and younger players.  One real plus from the match is that the starting XI were given the opportunity for some much needed R&R.  Wenger celebrated his 200th match in European competition, but I've no doubt he'll be wanting to forget that milestone.  The crowd of 32,000 within Karaiskakis Stadium boasted a volume equal to perhaps twice their numbers and one could quickly grasp this team were fighting for a European lifeline.  The hosts did not disappoint having a chance gone wide in under the first minute of play.  Arshavin countered with a shot of his own, Mirallas for the home side, then Santos and Frimpong for the likes of Arsenal.  A back and forth rhythm was developing.  The game was not a pretty one, but it was fast and intense.  And then, the goal.  Squillaci and Djourou attempted to clear the same ball but they had instead hand delivered it for the onrushing Djebbour to scoop up.  Deftly rounding Fabianski, Olypiacos were a goal to the good with only sixteen minutes on the board.  Two more strikes and moments later, Fabiaski was stretchered off, the injury resulting from a collision with Djebbour.  So at twenty-five minutes, third string Vito Mannone took the field.  The Ox and Benayoun combined to nearly level the deficit, but the recovery remained incomplete.  With thirty-six minutes gone, Manonne came off his line with a fine headed clearance, but Fuster gathered the ball thirty yards out and had a crack at goal.  Sadly, Manonne misjudged his position and attempted a kick-save when he could have used his hands.  It was the second fortunate goal for the hosts and they showed no signs of stopping.  

There was little improvement from the Gunners after the break.  Instead another injury to report, as Santos limped to the byline after only six minutes.  Miquel took his place and would soon take part in the Arsenal goal.  Just before the hour, Miquel's cross was chested down by Chamakh and confidently finished by Benayoun.  A good strike but far too early to celebrate.  The goal did seem to take the edge off Olympiacos and Arsenal crept back into the game as Rosicky came on in the seventy-fourth minute.  The Gunners nearly equalized as Benayoun fed 'Super Tom' who was narrowly quenched by the GK.  The hosts soon found their footing and renewed their attack.  The Greeks had an argument for a penalty with a handball in the box late in the game.  That third goal would come however, with a minute to spare as a ball headed off the bar was neatly tucked in by Modesto.  So too had the game and resulting Group F standings been put to bed.  
Would that it had gone in...
Now its not all bad news, several youngsters put forth strong performances in their Champs League debuts.  Miquel, the tenacious Frimpong, and of course the Ox all had good showings.  Far less can be said of our reserves between the sticks, but it would be a difficult situation for any keeper, much less one with very little first team experience in recent months.  Szczesny just can't get hurt, thats all.  The injury to Santos may prove costly in coming weeks as the backline had finally seemed to work out all the kinks.  Another encouraging note from the game was Benayoun's involvement as midfield maestro.  His experience will be called upon with our fixture congestion the rest of the month as our top players will need rotation.  Also, the blow is considerably softened when viewed from the angle of Manchester, England.  Both the red and the blue will be kicking about in the Europa League come the new year, and I'm sure this loss will be long forgotten.  Looking forward, Arsenal awaits a favorable draw for the knockout round as AC Milan, Napoli, and Bayer Leverkusen, by no means unbeatable, are perhaps the stiffest opposition to progress.  Saturday is Everton and the 125th anniversary match at Emirates Stadium.  This opponent is no push-over, but it should be all three points this weekend.  Also, if Chelsea fall to Man City, we're back in the top four, and who knows? maybe even the title race!!

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