Olympiacos (0) 1 Arsenal (1) 3
UEFA Europa League, Round of 16, Leg 1 of 2
Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis, Piraeus 185 47, Attica, Athens, Greece
Thursday, 11th March 2021. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-3-3) Bernd Leno; Hector Bellerin, David Luiz, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Willian Borges da Silva, Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Martin Ødegaard, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka.
Substitutes: Dani Ceballos, Alexandre Lacazette, Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Nicolas Pépé, Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí, Mohamed Elneny, Emile Smith-Rowe, Mat Ryan, Gabriel Martinelli, Karl Hein.
Scorers: Martin Ødegaard (34 mins), Gabriel (79 mins), Mohamed Elneny (85 mins)
Yellow Cards: Gabriel
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 59%
Referee: Daniel Siebert (Germany)
Assistant Referees: Jan Seidel (Germany), Rafael Foltyn (Germany)
Fourth Official: Christian Dingert (Germany)
Referee Observer: Karen Nalbandyan (Armenia)
VAR Team (UEFA): VAR Marco Fritz (Germany); AVAR Sascha Stegemann (Germany)
Attendance: A minimal amount of attendees (circa 3,000) due to coronavirus restrictions
Perhaps history will repeat itself? Tonight’s match is taking place in the same stadium as the Benfica game was played in, back on 25th February! Let us hope for the same result this evening. Mikel Arteta has called for the boys to win their next five matches, in order for Arsenal to springboard to bigger and better things at the end of this season, which will be a tough call, no doubt about it. This game will be a perfect test for everyone; as we saw last year, Olympiacos are certainly no pushovers, capable of a very powerful sting in the tail, so everyone has to be on top form out there tonight Let’s go!
After the missed chance that Martin Ødegaard completely blew after just two minutes, one was starting to wonder if this was going to be one of those nights for us. Keeping that thought in mind, just three minutes later, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was desperately unlucky not to score, when his point-blank header was saved by the Olympiacos goalie, Malheiro de Sá, when he pushed the ball on to the crossbar and out into open play. We certainly had the best of the opening stages of the match, with Kieran Tierney working well out on the left, seemingly cutting inside at will. Although the home side did start to look quite dangerous, we recovered our composure and started to play the way that we know how. David Luiz had a weak free kick on target from twenty yards that was easily saved, and despite playing well, we were still capable of making sloppy mistakes that almost cost us dear. A poor back pass from Gabriel onto the feet of Bruma was thankfully saved by Bernd Leno, but these appalling lapses of concentration must really end. By the half-hour mark, we were racking up the free kicks outside the Olympiacos penalty area, and most of them were lost opportunities that ended up tepid attempts to score, when a bit more application surely would not have gone amiss. And at last, after thirty-four minutes, we finally took the lead, quite deservedly, when Thomas Partey slotted the ball to Martin Ødegaard who promptly advanced a few yards and hit a fabulous twenty-yard left-footed shot that the Olympiacos goalkeeper had no chance in stopping, let alone saving. Nothing like a goal to lift the collective spirits, and although we looked good, with five minutes left before the break, David Luiz made a terrible error in our penalty area, in which we were extremely lucky not to get punished. When will we learn? Gabriel received our only yellow card of the evening for a rather soft tackle, and as the first half petered out, we managed to consolidate, keep calm, not do anything too silly, and go into the break in the affirmative.
And so the second half started with the home side kicking off proceedings. What will the next forty-five minutes or so, bring? Thomas Partey possibly answered this question with a testing shot that Malheiro de Sá easily gathered up, two minutes after the restart. The Olympiacos back line started to make errors, just enough for our forwards to starting pushing and probing to find the gaps. Dani Ceballos replaced Thomas Partey after fifty-five minutes, and again, three minutes later, we shot ourselves in the foot, when a series of poor defensive decisions over the course of just seconds saw the ball come loose and that was all it took was for Youssef El-Arabi to stroke the ball home comfortablyfrom just outside the penalty area to level the scores on the night. With the scores as they are, we need to regroup and impose our collective will on this match, and quickly too, before something else goes horribly wrong. However much we tried to break through the Olympiacos defence, the more we were denied, with the home side getting most of the team behind the ball to stifle our play. With twelve minutes left of the match, a superb Willian cross made contact with the head of Gabriel who headed the ball firmly into the net, to restore our lead. After eighty-two minutes, Mikel Arteta made a triple substitution with Mohamed Elneny, Emile Smith-Rowe and Nicolas Pépé replacing Willian, Bukayo Saka and Martin Ødegaard; almost immediately the changes bore incredible fruit. Mohamed Elneny hit the ball from twenty yards that gave the Olympiacos goalie no chance in saving it, and more importantly, his successful shot gave us a two-goal cushion. Alexandre Lacazette replaced Pierre-Emerick Aubameyangwith a couple of minutes left of normal time, to save collective legs for the North London derby on Sunday afternoon. Nicolas Pépé was unlucky not to score in injury time, when a firm Alexandre Lacazette pass flew across the six-yard box, only for an Olympiacos defender to clear the ball right from the tip of his boot. Despite a flurry of action from both teams in the five minutes of injury time, that was that.
Okay, we’ll take that. Despite the schoolboy errors, the lack of concentration by some of our defenders and a goalkeeping howler that led to the Olympiacos goal, we somehow got through this match as deserved winners. Arsenal can take comfort in bringing back to the Emirates a commanding lead next Thursday evening, a clear two-goal lead that we should be able to defend, in order to propel us into the quarter-finals of this competition. Fingers (and everything) crossed.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates on Sunday, 14th March at 4.30pm (Premier League). Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.