Arsenal Stutter But A Win Was All That Was Required
Arsenal 2 – 1 Olimpiacos
1 – 0 Oxlade – Chamberlain (17)
2 – 0 Santos (20)
2 – 1 Fuster (27)
Arsenal stuttered to victory over their Greek opponents, ready to be sacrificial lambs at a White Hart Lane slaughter this weekend. Oh, don’t get bent out of shape, Beasley is a Tiny Tot. It has all the hallmarks of “Duck Season, Rabbit Season, Fire!”
The makeshift Arsenal defence, rocked, rolled, scored, conceded and generally had a night where luck was on their side. And if that failed, Mikel Arteta and the crossbar helped them out. As well as Wojciech Szczesny. But that is what happens when you field a team that is missing its first, second, third and fourth choice centre backs. And still trying to gel as a defensive unit around that by dropping one of the first choice midfielders into the central void.
In short, the performance matched the team selection; bits and pieces. And if Tottenham think it will be as much of a walkover as the media, let their overconfidence be their downfall.
That is not to say that the faults highlighted do not exist, they do but as is always the case the reasons never fit in with the angle being reported.
An early goal would have been a target, to ease nerves and it duly arrived. Chamberlain made a run from the wing to the central position, meeting Alex Song’s exquisite pass from deep. The youngster rounded the defence, the Greek back four distracted by other runs being made, and shot through Mellberg’s legs and off the post, into the net. A great finish from the youngster, goals in consecutive games will be boosting his confidence no end.
It might have been two shortly afterwards, Arteta’s corner was met with a powerful but off target Chamakh header. The Spaniard played a pivotal role in the early stages, prompting and taking responsibility for the midfield as well as providing a solid goal-line defensive barrier. A key block, as vital as the saves the beaten Szczesny would make later on.
The visitors were taking confidence from their forays into Arsenal territory but were leaving themselves exposed at the back. It was a state of affairs that Arsenal would breach. Rosicky and Santos linked on the left, the Brazilian then tried to create a scoring opportunity for Chamakh. As that was snuffed out, he weaved into the area, cut back and trickled his shot home, placement beating power as the guiding light. Roberto Carlos it was not, the outcome was the same.
Chamakh once more had the opportunity to score, spurning Arshavin’s contribution. Scoring is still problematic for the Moroccan, despite having found the net at Ewood Park he is still lacking in confidence in front of goal. One last night would have done wonders for him. It wasn’t to be.
And the Greeks capitalised on that, the goal coming from a fabled Arsenal weakness; a corner. Quickly taken on the left, the ball was worked behind a slumbering Sagna, Ibagaza found Fuster unmarked around the penalty spot and the header was placed firmly into the corner of the net. There were so many errors in conceding it is hard to know what to think. Sleeping on the opportunity of a short corner, Sagna not on the post, no-one on the post, Arshavin nodding off when he had full view of Fuster’s run. Utterly unforgivable at this level of the professional game and suitably punished.
It caused the Arsenal defensive ship to creak. Szczesny tipped over and then used his legs, Jennings-esque, to prevent parity at the interval. Arsenal were ceding too much ground to the visitors, surrendering possession too readily as the Greeks pressed highly. To make matters worse, Ivan Gazidis had to request that the stewards remove a visitor from the director’s box. Apparently the Frenchman had been quite calm and urbane beforehand, whirling like a dervish after Olimpiacos scored.
The second began with sides trading jabs. Fuster shot wide, Chamberlain at the Greek goalkeeper, a leaden first touch taking him too close to the custodian. It was an entertaining if nervy affair. Changes were wrought, Arsenal finished more focussed on their defensive work. Even then, the crossbar came to their aid when a wonderful dipping, curling shot evaded Szczesny. Had their been more daylight between the two sides, you probably find that most would not have begrudged Torossidis his goal. As it was there wasn’t and we are thankful for the crossbar’s intervention.
A win was the desired outcome. A squad that is gelling now has four out of five, three on the trot with only two conceded in those games. The performances suggest that there is more work to be done defensively but regaining confidence is a slow process. And it is not helped by three different defences taking the field in those games. You can understand rotation being employed and the negative impact of injuries but the club desperately need to get the back four fit and into a groove. From that, a winning run that is being built can be extended.
As it is, four points out of six is exactly what Arsenal would have wanted before the group phase kicked off. Marseilles next in a double header, at the end of which the target will be qualification all but assured. A tall order but you never know, that little lick of paint tonight might just have been a little bit of luck returning.