Result: Olympiacos 1-3 Arsenal
Competition: Europa League
Date: 11 March 2021
Venue: Karaiskakis Stadium, Athens
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney, Xhaka, Partey, Odegaard, Willian, Saka, Auba
Subs: Ryan, Hein, Holding, Cedric, Chambers, Mari, Elneny, Ceballos, Pepe, Smith Rowe, Martinelli, Lacazette
Goals from Martin Odegaard, Gabriel and Mohamed Elneny secured an impressive 3-1 win for Arsenal against Olympiacos as Mikel Arteta’s side survived another defensive calamity.
The Gunners deserved the lead given to them by Odegaard’s thunderous first half effort but wobbled after the break when Youssef El Arabi levelled following a defensive mix-up between Bernd Leno and Dani Ceballos.
A thumping header by Gabriel restored the lead with 10 minutes remaining before Elneny, on as a sub, hammered home a third from distance to make us favourites to qualify for the Europa League quarter-finals.
Mikel Arteta made two changes from the side that started against Burnley, both in defence. Hector Bellerin replaced Calum Chambers at right-back and Gabriel took over from Pablo Mari as David Luiz’s partner. Willian’s third consecutive start meant Pepe had to settle for a place on a strong bench which included Emile Smith Rowe who was back from injury.
Mikel Arteta had hinted earlier in the week that Arsenal were harbouring a grudge against Olympiacos and his side started like they wanted revenge for last season’s exit at the hands of the Greeks. In the opening 10 minutes, we barely let the home side out of their half as we pressed high and snapped into challenges. We created good chances too.
Odegaard should have put us ahead on two minutes but scuffed a shot after a tidy Tierney cutback and Aubameyang, four minutes later, was denied by a fine save keeper Jose Sa. The striker’s header, with a slight deflection off Sokratis’ shoulder, looked destined for the net before he tipped the ball onto the bar.
We couldn’t to dominate with Saka and Odegaard busy in the middle of the park, trying to keep the tempo high. Partey blazed over before David Luiz and Aubemayang both stung the keeper’s palms with free-kicks from 25-yards.
Of course, with Arsenal, you’re never too far from unnecessary drama and when Odegaard went full Xhaka with a sloppy pass across the defence, we were lucky that Bruma’s shot was straight at Leno.
The Norwegian had a short spell where he looked a bit flustered but he soon reset himself. A neat pass freed Aubameyang who tried turning his defender when an early shot might have been the better option. Two minutes later, he smashed home his first goal in Arsenal colours.
There didn’t seem much on when he received the ball from Saka 35-yards from goal, but after taking a touch to tee himself, he hammered a rocket of a left foot effort that flew into the roof of the net. Keeper Sa might have done a bit better but that shouldn’t detract from the sweetness of the strike. (1-0)
Having worked hard for our lead, it was very frustrating that we seemed to get complacent once we had it. For the umpteenth time this season, our eagerness to play out from the back caused us issues and we were lucky not to concede. David Luiz trying to make a pass to Partey inside his own box had the ball stolen off him and Georgios Masouras went face-to-face with Leno only to fluff his lines. It was a real let-off when his shot flew wide.
Having used the break to clear our heads, the Gunners seemed to have restored order. The midfield recycled lots of loose play by the Greeks and we made good headway down the wings.
Arteta seemed confident enough to switch things up on 55 minutes. We know Partey has had his injury issues so perhaps with one eye on the North London derby, he relieved the Ghanaian of his duties and sent on Ceballos.
Inside two minutes, the Greeks levelled. And yes, you guessed it. It was all our own doing.
Arsenal went all the way back, back, back to Leno, who made a terrible decision to pass to the newly introduced Spaniard who was crowded by two players. Under pressure from El Arabi, he had the ball taken off him and the man who caused us so much pain at the Emirates last season slotted past Leno who was still backtracking into his area. Given the regularity of our calamitous play, we might as well wear clown outfits at this point. It was ridiculous defending. (1-1)
Having been totally out of the game, the Greeks suddenly fancied their chances of a win. They had a real opportunity to take the lead after some lovely passing but went just wide.
At the other end, Odegaard was doing his best to wriggle out of challenges but more often than not he was met with a wall of red and white. We continued to persist with our intricate play only for cross after cross to miss their intended target. That was until the 80th minute when a short corner was played to Willian who clipped a ball to the back post where Gabriel rose high to crash home a timely header. That the Brazilian absolutely crunched Yann M’Vila in the process made it all the more enjoyable. (2-1)
A triple substitution, which was due to happen before the goal was scored, followed. Pepe, Elneny and Smith Rowe came on for Odegaard, Saka and Willian. We should have extended our lead immediately when Bellerin flashed a dangerous ball along the goal line. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long for the third. Elneny got on the ball in the Olympiacos half, drove forward and unleashed an outswinging effort that found the net off the post. (3-1)
A two-goal cushion heading into the second leg puts us in a very strong position to qualify for the quarter-finals. It also sets us up nicely for this weekend’s clash with Sp*rs.