Arsenal 3 – 1 Olympiacos: Below-par Gunners secure unconvincing victory
Arsenal maintained a perfect start to their Champions League campaign with an unconvincing 3-1 victory over Olympiacos last night.
Gervinho continued his recent good form as he opened the scoring in the 43rd minute, but the Gunners failed to take their lead into the break as the Greeks immediately hit back through Kostas Mitroglou’s header on the stroke of half-time.
It was the least Olympiacos deserved from an opening 45 minutes in which Arsenal’s frailties at the back were exposed on more than one occasion.
But Arsenal rallied after the interval and went ahead through Lukas Podolski’s close-range finish.
Aaron Ramsey then wrapped up the victory late on with a superb scooped finish that ensured Arsenal continue to top Group B after Schalke were held to a 2-2 draw with Montpellier.
Going into the game, Wenger admitted that his side were down after their 2-1 loss against Chelsea at the weekend and the after-effects of that defeat were obvious in the early stages of the match.
After just five minutes, goalkeeper Vito Mannone’s poor pass to Thomas Vermaelen gifted possession to the Greek side, with the Italian grateful that the opportunity was wasted.
Santi Cazorla then saw his free kick tipped over as Arsenal tried to exert their influence on the game, but it was Olympiacos who carved open the next clear opportunity as Mitroglou drew a fine save from Mannone.
Arsenal’s centre-back pairing of Vermaelen and Laurent Koscienly looked shaky throughout the first half and they were in no man’s land when Paulo Machado latched onto a cross, only to somehow see his effort loop over the bar from six yards.
It was Arsenal who were to grab the opener, though, as Podolski and Cazorla combined effectively on the left-hand side before feeding the ball to Gervinho, whose low shot found its way past Balazs Megyeri and into the net.
The Greeks immediately hit back though, as Mitroglou got between the two Arsenal centre-backs to flick in a fine header to make it 1-1 at half-time.
Assistant manager Steve Bould, once again in charge of the Gunners in Europe as Wenger continues to serve a touchline ban, must have had some stern words for his side as Arsenal started the second half more brightly than they did the first.
Gervinho was lively down the left wing and he set up Cazorla from the edge of the box, only for the Spanish star to screw his shot wide.
The Ivorian then created an almost identical chance for Podolski and the German forward made no mistake as he fired through Megyeri’s legs and into the net.
Substitute Olivier Giroud was unlucky to see his goal-bound effort deflected for a corner as Arsenal pushed for the third goal which would put the game to bed.
The Frenchman did have a hand in Arsenal’s last goal of the game, as he released Ramsey before the former Cardiff City player cheekily lifted the ball over the on-rushing keeper and into the empty net.
Bould hailed Gervinho for his improvement this year, with the Ivory Coast striker already netting more times this season than he did in the whole of the last campaign.
“He is scoring goals so his confidence is sky high,” said Bould. “He is a danger with his pace and movement. He could be a top player.”
Gervinho will be looking to continue his good form when Arsenal travel to West Ham on Saturday.
Laurence Taylor, football correspondent