Result: Arsenal 0-1 Olympiacos (3-2 on aggregate)
Competition: Europa League
Date: 18 March 2021
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney, Xhaka, Elneny, Ceballos, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Aubameyang
Subs: Ryan, Okwonko, Holding, Cedric, Chambers, Mari, Partey, Odegaard, Nelson, Nketiah, Lacazette, Martinelli
Youssef El-Arabi’s second half strike secured a 1-0 win for Olympiacos at the Emirates but it wasn’t enough to stop Arsenal from progressing to the Europa League quarter-finals 3-2 on aggregate.
With a two-goal cushion from last week’s win in Athens, Mikel Arteta’s side were sloppy for large periods of a scrappy game but were unlucky not to secure a draw on the night after captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang squandered three fine chances.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang arrived at the Emirates in plenty of time to secure his place in the starting lineup. The striker, in for Alex Lacazette, was one of five changes from the side that started the north London derby. Hector Bellerin replaced Cedric at right-back, Mohamed Elneny and Dani Ceballos took over from Thomas Partey and Martin Odegaard in midfield and Pepe replaced Bukayo Saka who wasn’t risked after picking up a muscle problem at the weekend. The lesser spotted Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah made the bench, as did Gabriel Martinelli.
Stick or twist. That was the conundrum facing the Gunners who started the game with a two-goal advantage following the 3-1 win in Athens last week.
From the off, it looked like the directive from Arteta was to play sensibly.
We diligently maintained our shape off the ball with those in attack pressing high to keep the Greeks at arm’s length.
Olympiacos did enjoy spells of possession but they didn’t look overly threatening in the final third. They seemed content maintaining the status quo, presumably with one eye on a second half push against tiring legs.
While the game was undeniably scrappy, both sides did have clear chances to score.
Pepe, chasing a Ceballos through ball, nicked the ball past the onrushing keeper before trying to nutmeg a defender with his shot. It took a slight deflection a trickled just past the near post for a corner. Replays showed a pass to Aubameyang might have been the better option.
The captain, who was far from his best, also missed a gilt-edged chance. He too was played in by Ceballos but with only the keeper to beat he fired over the bar. One of his customary curlers would have done the job. Instead, he gave it a toe-poke.
In between, Leno made a fine stop to deny Youssef El-Arabi. The striker pounced on a long hoof by his keeper and fired low and true before the German stuck out a leg. It was a fine reaction stop that was followed by a rollicking for his defence.
Smith Rowe did attempt a curler in stoppage time but by and large it was a drab affair.
As expected, Olympiacos kicked through the gears after the break. Three times in the first four minutes they might have taken the lead.
Kostas Fortounis, their best player, dragged a shot wide. Then he made the decision to cross when he should have had another attempt. From the resulting corner, a header flashed across our defence. Arteta, arms crossed, bowed his head and started muttering to himself. He wasn’t pleased.
Sure enough, with their next attack, the Greeks did get a goal. Ceballos took too long on the ball and on the counter, El-Arabi cut inside Luiz and fired past Leno with the aid of a deflection off Gabriel. (0-1)
It didn’t take long for Arteta to switch things up. On came Partey and Odegaard for Elneny and Ceballos. We briefly wrestled back control of things and were unlucky not to equalise when Pepe’s shot was accidentally blocked over by Smith Rowe.
As the game ticked past the 70-minute mark we went back to inviting pressure. Partey gave away the ball on the edge of his own box and the ball spent 10 seconds bouncing around in our area without anyone in red taking charge of the situation. Had there been fans present, it’s fair to say the players would have felt their wrath.
The North Bank would have been similarly exasperated when Odegaard, after neat interplay with Pepe, worked space in the box only to fire way over. Two minutes later, it was Pepe’s turn to frustrate as he stroked straight at Sa. The worst miss of the lot came from Aubameyang. On the break, Odegaard played the captain through on goal and he tried to dink the keeper but clipped wide.
Our lives were made somewhat easier when the visitors were reduced to 10 men following an impetuous reaction by Ousseynou Ba. The Senegalese fouled substitute Martinelli on the touchline and then beat the ball to the turf in frustration. By the letter of the law, he was always going to get done by the Spanish referee but it did feel a bit harsh. Realising the potential damage he’d done to his team’s chances of qualifying, he was in tears in the tunnel.
Even with one less man to worry about, we continued to miss chances. Aubameyang tried a backheel from a Martinelli cross that was saved and then he volleyed over the rebound. He really should have had a hattrick.
Thankfully, it didn’t matter. We’re into tomorrow’s draw and will find out at midday what our route to the final will be.