That marks the completion of Matchday 2 and now there’s a gap between us and the closest placed team in the group. Our win against Olympiacos yesterday puts us 2 points ahead of Shalke after they only were pegged back at the final minute by Montpellier. That result at Gelsenkirchen was unexpected, at least by me. Not after Shalke’s away win at Greece. A win in the next game against them would see us sit pretty at the top with a gap of 5 points. That’s qualification pretty much secured.
Like Steve Bould said in the post match conference, we were great without being fantastic. In fact, that description could also be used to surmised our performances in the Champions League thus far. In the two games that we’ve played, we probably have had poor periods of around 35 to 40 minutes in each game. That practically means we lucked out half the match or in a different description, withstood and didn’t crumbled when we decided to let the opposition take control of the game.
Just like in Montpellier, we allowed Olympiacos to think that they can come back into the game when we really should have been so far ahead that it’s not possible for a comeback. We conceded possession to them after we’ve gone ahead and late on in the game. Changes in the line-up meant that unlike the Chelsea game, we weren’t overrun in midfield. The threat from the away side came mostly from the flanks. Facing the continuous impressive form of both Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs, they were never going to get much joy. However, when they did, we looked vulnerable.
Both the centre backs looked like they had something else preoccupying their minds during the game. Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, both looked uneasy at tackling in the first half. A little (stress on the word “little”) worrying when considering Per Mertesacker is nursing some sort of illness at the moment. They did resemble their better self in the second half though, perhaps an earful from Bould at half time reminded them of the task at them. Although, Vermaelen denied that Bould showed massive outrage during the half time team talk.
The protection they had in front of them was helped by the inclusion of Francis Coquelin, who I thought had his best game for us this season. He was tigerish in the tackles and distributed the ball well. In many ways, he dovetailed well with Mikel Arteta and the Spaniard could roam a little more than he was allowed in other games. The dangerous part of this game is when both players gets caught up attacking and there’s no one back protecting. Thankfully this wasn’t the game to witness such callousness.
The scorers of the first two goals made things more similar to that Montpellier game than we hoped for, though this time the sequence was reversed. First, Gervinho continued his good goal scoring run with another peach. It was from outside the penalty box, with the precision of the shot made it tough for the keeper to cover. Even then, some will find that the keeper reacted far too slow to that shot. That’s before Olympiacos levelled the game, just seconds before the half time whistle. Koscielny and Vermaelen allowed Kostas Mitroglou to get in between them and plant the header beyond Vito Mannone.
10 minutes after the restart was all it took for us to lead again. This time, Gervinho involved again as it was his pass that set Lukas Podolski to get his goal. The German was almost anonymous again in this game just like the last 2 against Manchester City and Chelsea. Yet, that ability to pop up with a goal or an assist when you’re not on the best of forms or not allowed the space or time on the ball as you would have like, is an asset than can easily be undervalued. Still, would like to see him being a bigger influence in the big matches.
Have anyone checked the obituaries yet? No? Because it was Aaron Ramsey who scored the 3rd and made the final score more flattering that how the game actually went about. It was a case of if at first you don’t succeed, you try and try again. Ramsey who had only came on 10 minutes before his goal, had already have one attempt on goal that went wide. The same determination got him the chance the second time and he wasn’t going to miss that.
Olivier Giroud didn’t start again but he’ll be pretty happy with his contributions. It was his headed flick-on that sent Ramsey scurrying for his goal. That’s 1 goal and 2 assist if anyone’s counting. As for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, he was bright early on, really pressing the Olympiacos left back very high up the pitch. Going forward wise, left a lot to be desired. I don’t know but there has to be some concerns over his performances in the last few that he has played. Could also be instructions from the coaches for his to change his style or curb his normal dribble runs.
When Olympiacos scored the equaliser, you could almost sense the doubts start to creep into the minds of the players. Doubts that probably stems from the loss last weekend. So, in many ways the win is welcomed. The process could have been less anxious one but it’s the outcome that’s important. Hopefully, this win will clear away some doubts that may have been left behind.