A Night To Forget Very Quickly
Olimpiacos 3 – 1 Arsenal
1 – 0 Djebbour (16)
2 – 0 Fuster (36)
2 – 1 Benayoun (59)
3 – 1 Modesto (89)
In a land of myths and legends where giants support the world on their shoulders and mortals perform Herculean tasks, Arsenal crumbled like the vanquished foes of a forgotten generation. The result became irrelevant with events elsewhere, the wider implications of injuries may not be known for some time yet. Or Everton’s visit at the weekend, whichever is soonest.
Arsenal return to these shores with that which was deserved. There can be no complaints that the Greek side won and from the manager, there were none, as sure a sign as any that his team underperformed on the evening. His stinging rebuke summed it all up,
I am annoyed because we lost the game. It’s difficult to single out (individuals) – I feel offensively and defensively we were not convincing tonight. We lost many challenges.
You could feel there was more at stake for Olympiacos than us. I think that made us insecure defensively. We lost many balls in position where we are not used to
Few emerge with credit, many with diminished reputations, tarnished through poor performances. It was a night where the defence contributed significantly to the team’s downfall. Arsenal may not have been entirely a team of strangers but they certainly played like one.
Early chances were traded between the two sides, Modesto for Olimpiacos might have done better inside the opening minute whilst Arshavin should have done better soon after. Arsenal were not cowed by the attacking verve of their hosts as Frimpong came closest, pinging the ball into the side-netting.
The opening goal came as little surprise and the source of the defensive mix-up even less so. Djourou and Squillaci performed A Gentleman’s Excuse Me allowing a seemingly harmless pass to reach Djebbour who showed what happens when you give an in-form striker a clear chance. It also highlighted how low the French defender’s confidence is. Squillaci does not lack ability but his time in England has just been hapless; his confidence – or the utter absence of it – means that an Alumia- esque injury may be on the cards.
The jitters in the Arsenal defence were not in just one man, Fabianski’s torrid twenty minutes or so was a horrible return to the form that saw derision heaped on him. The contrast between his confidence and that of Szczesny was marked. His evening was summed up in two incidents. The first, shortly after the goal, saw a poor clearance returned with interest that had the Pole scurrying toward the goal, relieved as the ball drifted past the post.
The second saw his evening curtailed through injury, a cut knee that may keep him out of the team for some time according to the manager. His replacement, Vito Mannone, endured an evening that he will want to forget.
Despite the slapstick at the back, Arsenal could have drawn level. Oxlade-Chamberlain presented Benayoun with a tricky volley that the Israeli slashed wide.
It was a temporary respite. Mannone revived the ghost of Harold Lloyd with his contribution to the Greeks second. Nerves or lack of match practice? A combination of both? Who knows, I doubt the Italian could even explain it. Vito made a hash of a headed clearance, Fuster sent the ball goalwards. Inexplicably Mannone tried to hack the ball clear, unaware of his position in the area or just utterly befuddled, watching helplessly as he got that wrong and the ball lolloped into the net.
Two down and seemingly little chance of retrieving the situation. Arsenal were being hassled and pressured onto the back foot and sinking into a defensive quagmire of their own making. That the deficit was not greater owes more to Djebbour’s wayward header than any heroic defending.
The second half showed no early improvement. Mannone saved from Modesto whilst the resultant corner was met by Mellberg, the crossbar’s intervention aiding the reeling visitors. Santos’ injury allowed Miquel to earn some more experience on European fields, with the possibility of more this weekend at The Emirates.
Modesto and Mirallas continued to wreak havoc with Arsenal’s backline, the sidenetting saving Arsenal twice with Mannone and Squillaci utterly baffled by each other, instilling no confidence in either.
And then, against all of the odds, a lifeline for Arsenal. Chamakh set Benayoun with a chance, greedily rifled into the far corner of the net. Could Arsenal retrieve a two-goal deficit? The evidence of the night suggested otherwise but insecurities were apparent in the hosts. Rosicky and Benayoun conspired to create a half-chance but that was as good as the revival got.
At the other end, Vermaelen’s hand diverted the ball. Some referee’s may have been swayed by the evening, thankfully this one wasn’t. In the end that contention did not matter as with a minute left Mellberg struck the post and Modesto sealed the win with the rebound.
Arsenal’s European adventure is now on the backburner with domestic matters to the fore until Spring beckons from Winter’s gloom. We await the next round with greedy anticipation.