Arsenal 3-1 Olympiacos Piraeus: Well, It Got There!

I don't imagine that any of us will be raving about this match to the next generation on our deathbeds. You more likely will have forgotten that it even happened before you even finish reading this. However, six points from six is not a bad return in the Champions League, no matter who you're playing. There's been some wacky results - just ask Spartak Moscow how they're feeling after their last tilt - so to head back into league play on the back of a win is an unadulterated Good Thing.

I still haven't seen why, but Per Mertesacker was not even in the squad today. It's a shame, because after Laurent Koscielny's horror-show against Chelsea, it would have been nice to see the BFG back in there to calm things down. Instead, the Vemielny partnership was forced to carry on. In better news, Mikael Arteta passed fit and started in the center, and Francis Coquelin started in place of Aaron Ramsey. Gervinho got another crack at the False Nine, with Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also up top.

Unfortunately, the completely overmatched Vito Mannone continued in goal, and he almost added to his Greatest Hits Against Olympiacos inside of the first ten minutes with possibly the worst goal kick in the history of this grand game. He tapped a short effort to a clearly-unready Thomas Vermaelen, and it was pounced upon by one of their lot. Thankfully, the combination of their guy taking his time to decide what to do and our guys swarming him quickly managed to snuff out the danger. I promise you though, West Ham would have scored on that play.


For the most part, the opening half was a horrible dirge played out in a near-monsoon. Neither side seemed to be able to find a teammate with a Sherpa guide and two weeks' notice. I can't speak for the Greek side having only seen them in games where they lose to us, but our lot looked like they were the first 11 gents to turn up to the park for a kickabout, still asking each other their names as they're trying to play.

Still, there were a few half-chances in there. Santi Cazorla took a free kick from an impossible angle, and almost caught out Olympiacos keeper Balázs Megyeri by attempting a shot. Sadly, the Hungarian recovered well to tip over the bar.

Our opponents, on the other hand, mainly fell over at every opportunity, clutching whatever body part came up on the Twister board. It's one thing to time-waste in the last few minutes when you're winning, but this was taking the piss. That said, Koscielny probably should have walked for a vicious two-footed lunge on one of their guys. He was only booked, and luckily so at that. A few minutes later, Vito did well to hold a swerving long-range effort by Kostas Mitroglou.

Part of me began to think that this was destined for 0-0, when the Gunners struck completely against the run of play. You'll be stunned to know that Cazorla started it, drawing markers to him on the left. The ball got crossed in, but Arteta couldn't control Gervinho's feed. It came back out to the Ivorian though, who utilized the space created by Arteta's pick on Pablo Contreras. It also served to partially screen Megyeri, who obviously saw it too late and thus missed what might have been a saveable shot otherwise.

It's always great to score so soon before halftime, because going in with the lead allows you to keep all the momentum, and...what? Oh.

It's always galling to give up a goal not only so soon before halftime, but also so soon after scoring. It undermines all the momentum you gained from scoring, and makes the team talk that much tougher, especially for someone who's not the actual manager. The Vermielny pairing struck again, both culpable for the goal. It was a basic run and cross from Leandro Greco, sent to the general area of Mitroglou. He was covered by both Vermaelen and Koscielny, and yet he still had the easiest of headers to guide past the stranded Mannone.

Yet another annoying goal to concede, and we all needed to see something better in the second half. Cazorla threatened early, but he side-footed wide on a chance that was much harder than it looked. But, just before it got to the stage of the match where the visitors might start to think a draw was back on, their keeper let them down and we were back in the lead.

Coquelin started it by winning the ball well inside the Olympiacos half. He passed to Gibbs, who sprung Gervinho down the left. Podolski was there for the one-two, leaving the Ivorian room to cross. It was cut out by the defender, but right back to our man. This time, he caught Podolski's trailing run, and the German turned well and shot to the only location where there was an opening. A better goalkeeper than Megyeri (read as: most goalkeepers) would read this and respond accordingly, but he seemed surprised by the shot and was rightfully disappointed to see it go in. I am not trying to look a gift horse in the mouth here, but we did get lucky a bit (though the chance was nicely worked by the two men in red).

Arsenal's tails were up after the goal, and suddenly there was far more fluidity to their game. Cazorla and Gervinho began to find more space and caused their backline no end of trouble. The Ox joined the fun, tormenting them down the right to win a free kick that Koscielny almost headed in. Up the other end, Mannone witlessly allowed a loose ball to bobble over the line for a corner. Get well soon etc and so on.

The visitors had a brief spell where they threatened a bit, but it was dealt with well by the Arsenal. Theo Walcott replaced the Ox, ostensibly to give the onrushing Greek wingers something to think about on the counter. In fact, there was one brilliant riposte - that didn't involve Theo but did go through Cazorla and Gervinho - that ended when the keeper just got to a cutback before the marauding TV5.

With ten minutes to go, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey got run-outs in place of the excellent Gervinho and Podolski. Both of them ran their socks off on the day, and the fresh legs would help ensure that the visitors didn't take advantage of a potentially tiring Arsenal. The two would go on to combine on an injury-time goal to secure all three points...though only after a potentially bad injury to Coquelin. Hopefully the young Frenchman isn't gone for too long.

Mannone took a long goal kick with seconds left on the clock, which was well won by Giroud. Ramsey ran onto it, leaving the right-back for dead. Megyeni came out much too far, much too soon...which allowed Ramsey to cheekily chip it over him and into the net. Great goal from the Welshman, and hopefully one that will shut up some of the more reactionary critics out there. The kid's got talent, and perhaps now that he doesn't have to play every minute he'll have the gas in the tank to actually show it.

I'd also be worried if I was President Assad of Syria, though. We all know what happens when Rambo's someone's worst nightmare.

All in all, this was a good win despite the early struggles. Hopefully the team can hit the blocks running against West Ham, who I suspect will not be as forgiving as Olympiacos should there be any periods of jaded, listless play like we saw in the first 40 minutes here.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Mannone 6, Gibbs 7, Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 5, Jenkinson 7, Arteta 7, Coquelin 7, Podolski 7 (Ramsey 7), Cazorla 8, Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Walcott 7), Gervinho 8

Man of the Match:

Pretty obviously Gervinho here, I think. This was very much a Dr. Jekyll performance from him, as his scintillating runs and ball skills were used to great effect against the Greeks, and he brought his teammates into the attack extremely well also. More of this, please!