This was Arsenal’s first defeat in this season’s Champions League and it had we not qualified prior, it would be shambolic rather than comical. Olympiacos must have thought we’d done them a favour but they could rightly be disappointed to miss out on the next stage. Marseille staged a late comeback in their match against Borussia Dortmund to join us in the knockout phase.
Only 2 out of the 4 defenders were the same as the one played against Wigan. Thomas Vermaelen and Andre Santos retained their places while Sebastien Squillaci and Johan Djourou filled out the rest of the defence. In midfield, we had Emmanuel Frimpong, Francis Coquelin, Andrey Arshavin while Yossi Benayoun, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Marouane Chamakh were tasked with the attacking threat.
Right from the off, the home side looked like the side who wanted it more. They pressed and chased after every single ball. The high energy game they play would hamper them later in the game but by then it was a little to late to change anything. The players were not comfortable with the other team literally up their faces all the time. There was lack of calmness and the only figurehead who tried to rally the troops was Vermaelen.
However, seeing as he plays in the centre of defence, his influence was limited. While we’re on the Vermaelen topic, why was he playing in this game? And why is Santos, our only fit recognised left back even playing in this game? The latter would later limped off with an ankle injury and will be out for a few weeks. I cringed when Vermaelen slammed his knee into the post and when he seemed to have done his back.
This was a meaningless game to say the least. I’ve said it before, there’s absolutely no point in risking our players in this final games. These are crucial players to our cause. Of course you can argue, that they could just as easily be injured in the next match but that would represent a risk that’s worth taking because the next match would actually mean something.
Lukasz Fabianski had a horror show in goal, culminating in his departure with an injury after colliding with one of our own. He already had a few kick-outs that were poor. No distance and no height. On one of those times, it went straight to the Greek champions and they scored. Djourou and Squillaci got in each other’s way and the ball fell kindly to Rafik Djebbour. Fabianski could have stayed on his line as there were recovering players. That didn’t happen and Djebbour easily got round him and score.
Vito Mannone was his replacement and the Italian fared no better. We talked about competition all over the pitch but at the moment, it looks like there’s none to challenge Wojciech Szczesny. Mannone was a bundle of nerves and was no better on the clearances. He cleared one outside of the penalty box and a ricocheted ball came back at him. Any keeper who doesn’t know his whereabouts around his own penalty area is a dangerous one. He attempted to kick the ball when he could just as easily catch it.
We did get back into the game on the hour mark but that would have no bearing on the outcome of the match. Benayoun volleying in the ball in the top corner after a lay-off from Chamakh. On second viewing, you can also say that the ball rebounded off the Moroccan’s chest kindly onto the path of Benayoun. This was at the period of the game where Olympiacos’ energy levels dropped. But that was as far as we got to the opponent’s goal. They even got a third before the end of the match.
AOC was bright and showed occasional flashes of brilliance when dribbling. However, the manager is right to have kept him under wraps for most matches, as his defensive work left a lot to be desired. Frimpong was another who started the match decent enough but tailed off with every goal that we conceded. Coquelin was kicked around a fair few times but failed to exert his authority as can be seen from previous games.
However, especially for younger players, consistency is the part and parcel of growing up both as a man and a player. One problematic match doesn’t mean that they can be written off. It’s about knowing that they have the quality and just need to do more training to find that level of consistency. Inevitably, the same accusation could also be label on one particular senior player.
Arshavin got to play in his favoured central role. Suffice to say, he was horrible. I really want to say good things about him but any other way of summarising his performance would be far off the mark. For someone who plays so little recently, he looks lethargic. Constantly losing the ball and even his ball control is getting worse. Time is slowly but surely running up for the little Russian.
Ultimately, this match, the result and performance should not affect the rest of our season. If there’s one concern to pick up from here, it’s the injury to Santos and any other knocks that Vermaelen might pick up. That said, it’s a huge learning curve for the younger players. It was a hostile atmosphere and the more experienced opponent played the right tactics. One can only hope that they’ll learn from this experience.
Time to forget the European matches and concentrate on the domestic front.