The group stage of the Champions League have finally ended. There were genuine concern, especially after the home defeat to Shalke, that we might not make it to the next stage of the competition. Those fears were allayed in MatchDay 5 of the competition when we did qualify for the knock-out rounds. Yesterday’s game confirmed the placings in 3 other groups. Porto, Real Madrid and AC Milan finished second in those groups while PSG, Dortmund and Malaga finished first. If there’s any major difference in the strength between those two batch of teams, then I don’t see it.
Defeat meant that we stayed second in the group and will have to play the second leg away from home. This time, we are going to the Nou Camp with a single goal advantage and will hold out to beat Barcelona and move on in the competition. I bet you’ve seen stranger things. If you’ve seen Stewart Downing score goals, then I’m sure we are on the same page. The 2 points that I mentioned in yesterday’s blog were met and I’m sufficiently contend with that. Thomas Vermaelen may have played the full 90 minutes but didn’t look like he picked up anything serious to make him miss this weekend’s match.
Then there’s the return cameo from Tomas Rosicky. The Czech was a lively figure in the first half and that was all he played. Substituted at the start of the second half, it was a calculated move from Arsene Wenger. The 45 minutes and not forgetting the goal he scored, would do his confidence a world of wonders. Rosicky was his usual busy self and contributed to what was a very good first half for us. Olympiacos were limited to very few chances, most of which were from outside the box. Not unprecedented that the loss of an influential figure made us crumble in the second half. Thankfully, this time it was not down to injuries.
I would be lying to you if I said I was happy to be beaten. I never am and I’m hopeful the team feels the same way as well. Regardless of the nature of the match and/or the importance of the match, competitive players should always look to win matches. To most part, we were well on the way of achieving a rare away win in these parts of Greece when officials took matter into their own hands. The home side have hardly looked threatening to put any past Wojciech Szczesny and probably wouldn’t have, if not for an intervention from the referee. Szczesny putting his hands to a ball that has already gone out, only to see the referee give a corner kick to Olympiacos when a goal kick was the only right decision.
They scored from the ensuing corner kick and that lifted their confidence greatly. We never seemed to recovered from that. Once again, we let our heads drop at the first sign of trouble. From a very comfortable match, to making it uncomfortable for ourselves. The Greek champions seize on that and kept pressuring us. Everyone stood off Kostas Mitroglou and allowed him all the time in the world to bend one into the bottom corner. Our Pole in goal unsighted until the very last moment but the fault surely lies in front of him. The result has little significance but the manner in which we dropped our level of performance in the second half deserves some scrutiny.
Marouane Chamakh had a run out and did what you expect out of him. Couple of neat take downs and headers won, got involved in a lot of our build-up but did little to cause any panic in the Olympiacos defence. Gervinho continues to build frustration in the minds of fans. He did provide an assist for Rosicky’s goal but fared little better than Chamakh. Gervinho was careless in possession and kept making the wrong decision, whether to run with the ball or to pass. If Chris Waddle doesn’t rate the footballing brain in Theo Walcott, I wonder what he thinks of Gervinho.
Little Jernade Meade made his Champions League debut alongside the aforementioned Vermaelen and the rare sighting of Sebastien Squilliaci. I thought he did well but the pace of the game caught up with him, in the final period of the match. Tidy on the ball, perhaps conscious that he doesn’t want to make mistakes, didn’t push forward as much as our left back would normally do. Squillaci was also decent but I don’t want to speak too much about him because it is obvious that he will not feature in any part of the rest of the season, unless a defensive crisis strike us.
With the more important match for this week, still to come, it’s time for us to put aside any European thoughts until February. WBA is a match that means more that what a win in this game could bring. Shame that we didn’t see more youngsters being given a chance.