Match Report: Arsenal 0 – 1 Olympiacos

Arsenal (0) 0 Olympiacos (0) 1

(Arsenal go through to the quarter-finals, 3-2 on aggregate)

UEFA Europa League, Round of 16, Leg 2 of 2

Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU

Thursday, 18th March 2021. Kick-off time: 5.55pm

(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Hector Bellerin, David Luiz, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka; Nicolas Pépé, Dani Ceballos, Emile Smith-Rowe; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Substitutes: Alexandre Lacazette, Martin Ødegaard, Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Thomas Partey, Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Mat Ryan, Gabriel Martinelli, Arthur Okonkwo.

Yellow Cards: Kieran Tierney

Arsenal Possession Percentage: 45%

Referee: Carlos Del Cerro Grande (Spain)

Assistant Referees: Juan Yuste Jimenez (Spain), Roberto Alonso Fernandez (Spain)

Fourth Official: Jose Sanchez Martinez (Spain)

Referee Observer: Iain Robertson Brines (Scotland)

VAR Team (UEFA): VAR Juan Martinez Munuera (Spain); AVAR Guillermo Cuadra Fernandez (Spain)

Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions

For this round of 16, second leg match here at the Emirates tonight, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang returns, and its good to see that we are playing a strong three-man line around him tonight as well, with Nicolas Pépé, Dani Ceballos and Emile Smith-Rowe out to impress. Let’s go!

We started the match comfortably and confidently, and despite an early minor injury to Emile Smith-Rowe (in which he took a ball square in the face), we looked every inch the disciplined footballers that we know we can be. The game plan that Olympiacos appeared to be playing was one of defence in depth, and one of containment, with no real desire to attack us at this point in the match. Nicolas Pépé was unfortunate not to score when he tried to go around the goalkeeper on a one-to-one situation, but his deflected shot hit the side netting. A few minutes’ later, Bernd Leno made a fantastic save in order to stop Youssef El-Arabi from scoring when a “route one” ball from the goalkeeper caught us completely wrong-footed; thankfully Bernd Leno made a superb save with his feet to deny him a scoring opportunity. A great chance to score by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang which saw him whack the ball over the bar from close range was a wasted effort, and as we approached the half-hour mark, it was becoming evident that tonight’s match was on the verge of becoming quite a pedestrian affair. Although we had chances to score, and the majority of the first half was indeed played in the visitors’ half, we obviously found it difficult to break down a nine or ten-man defensive wall, as any team would, of course, and as the minutes ebbed away to the half-time break, our frustrations became clear, as we started to run out of ideas how to break Olympiacos down and score, ultimately.

Well, the second half certainly started off with a bit more spark, with the visitors creating good chances to score, and putting us under pressure in the first five minutes or so. Sure enough, Olympiacos took the lead when Youssef El-Arabi hit a right-footed shot from the left side of the box, which was deflected into the net, (and past Bernd Leno) by Gabriel. A few minutes’ later, Mikel Arteta decided to make changes, and quickly too, namely Thomas Partey and Martin Ødegaard for Mohamed Elneny and Dani Ceballos, in order to get some steel in the midfield area, and on the hour, Kieran Tierney broke down the left-hand side of the pitch, put over a superb cross into the penalty area, and an incoming Nicolas Pépé hit a superb shot, that ironically bounced off Emile Smith-Rowe and into the stands. We looked quite jittery when Olympiacos started to advance into our half, and it has to be said, almost fearful when they moved into our penalty area, which was more than slightly worrying. The match started to get rather scrappy, and although we had our chances, (particularly when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was left on a one-to-one situation with the goalkeeper, and managed to hook the ball wide of the post somehow), our goalscoring chances looked much to be desired tonight. Emile Smith-Rowe and Hector Bellerin were replaced by Gabriel Martinelli and Calum Chambers with eight minutes of the match remaining to try and zip some life into us, and after Olympiacos went down to ten men, courtesy of some childish behaviour by Ousseynou Ba after a nasty foul on Gabriel Martinelli, it looked as if the numbers game may just work in our favour now. Certainly with the extra man advantage, our game management skills started to kick into life, and we managed to get through the three minutes’ injury time without any major dramas, and therefore our passage into the quarter-finals was assured.

Although this was an extremely lacklustre performance tonight to say the least, the main objective was achived, namely to hold the advantage from the first leg, and advance into the quarter-finals of the Europa League. Yes, we made life extremely hard for ourselves at times, and our goalscoring abilities let us down badly, tonight will be remembered (if at all) as a successful round of this year’s Europa League campaign. A word to the lads; just don’t play like that against West Ham United on Sunday afternoon, or there will be tears before bedtime, mark my words.

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: West Ham United at London Stadium on Sunday, 21st March at 3.00pm(Premier League). Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Steve

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.

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