Arsenal 2 – 1 Olympiacos: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

How many teams can miss that many first choice players and eke out a fairly comfortable win in the Champions League? I think that is the big question and one that many might have missed when entangled in observations pertaining to Arsenal’s defence, which undoubtedly needs a lot more work.

As expected, Wenger rested a number of key players. Being at home helped. It’s good to see that the manager can rely on the youngsters and some of the out of form players in such a game. It helps the others get a much needed breather.

On the whole this was an open game with both teams looking for goals. Olympiacos must have felt they could get something from this one as they pushed higher up the pitch and played with belief. That meant the attacking Gunners found more space in the forward areas.

After scoring his first competitive goal for the club in the Carling Cup, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took just eight minutes to become the youngest English goal-scorer in the competition. Arsenal were camped in the Olympiacos half with Song, playing at centre-back, just inside the half-way line. Sagna had pushed really high up and had taken over space normally marked for a wide attacker. Against Shrewsbury AOC struggled when Jenkinson took up such positions. In this game he made an intelligent run from a deep-ish position on the inside right channel. Song picked it out with a wonderfully floated pass. The youngster was  bit lucky as the ball came back to him after his touch took it towards a backtracking defender but such luck is created by good movement and passing.

I really enjoyed the finish, especially the placement, with his weaker foot. This move also showed the lad is learning at an exponential rate. Of course, there is a long way to go before he becomes one of the world’s best but the potential is there.

The Gunners doubled the lead in the 20th minute when another player scored his first Arsenal goal. This time it was Brazilian full-back Santos who finished with his weaker foot after latching on to a loose ball from a desperate defensive lunge that resulted from his run down the left and a delightful exchange of passes that also involved Rosicky and Arshavin.

Thus far I have focused only on Arsenal’s goals but there were a number of chances at the other end in the first half. There was a great deal of space in front of Arsenal’s defence and in the wide areas that was exploited well by the visitors. They also came up with intelligent variations on the set-pieces.

One such resulted in a goal in the 27th minute when Arsenal were caught completely unawares. The corner was played short and a simple one-two put Ibagaza free down Arsenal’s right. He had time to pick the run from Fuster who arrived unmarked into the box and scored without a challenge. Looking at the surprise on the face of most of the Gunners it was clear they had no clue. The coaches have to do a much better job of getting the organization right. And it’s not limited to organization alone. The change has to start from the way the manager, coaches, and the players think about defending. This is an area that worries me no end but I don’t want to dwell on it in this post.

Both teams created a number of half-chances. It would be fair to say the visitors shaded it in that regard. Having been there as a Gooner, I sympathize with every Olympiacos fan who thinks his team deserved more. But it’s hard to take anything away from the Gunners, especially after a much improved second half performance. By now most of you must have seen the match and the highlights so I am not getting into the details of other events in the game.

On a side note, I was wondering if the visitors have a specialist set-piece coach. Following on from the earlier discussion on the topic, I believe this is an area where most teams can make an immediate improvement because variations on set-plays shouldn’t necessarily lead to a philosophical conflict with the manager’s approach or the requirements of other coaches, say the defensive ones. With the technical quality that Arsenal have, I expect a lot more from free-kicks of all sorts. Even if it doesn’t lead to a dramatic increase in goals, the opposition should at least feel pressurized and threatened. It can lead to errors at the back as we see from time to time in Arsenal’s penalty box. And it should make the opposing defenders think twice before knocking a ball out. This topic deserves a separate discussion so I don’t want to extend it in this article.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: I don’t blame the keeper for the number of times the ball flashed across his area (just as I have not done with other keepers in the past). Wojciech made decent saves, his positioning and handling of the ball was good, couldn’t have done anything for the goal, and looked comfortable even when the ball was played back to him in tight spaces.

Sagna: It was a typically hard working effort from the Frenchman but it wasn’t as solid as it is when he gets better cover from Song in midfield and the wide attacker on the right. Made a few mistakes like getting caught in possession or up the field, but also averted danger by chasing back on numerous occasions. Put in a couple of good crosses.

Mertesacker: Very impressive with his reading of the game and got a fair few vital touches at moments that could have been decisive. As I have said before, one big defender cannot cover the whole box so it’s hard to blame him for the structural issues at the back.

Song: Immense. Absolutely loved his confidence. It was as if he just knew he was much better than the opposition and it reflected in his individual battles which he rarely, if ever, lost. His positioning wasn’t bad at all despite this being a role he doesn’t play often. Played a number of eye-catching passes. MotM in my opinion.

Santos: Congratulations to the Brazilian for opening his account. Would be interesting to know when was the last time two different left-backs scored for the club in quick succession. I thought he looked defensively competent, controlled the ball well and has quick feet, showed a good burst of pace, and I really liked the way he applauded his team-mates even when their passes were over hit and forced him to chase a lost cause.

In continuance of the running theme on this blog, I don’t think the defenders were at fault even though the defence wasn’t at a level one expects from a side that wants to win the Premiership or the Champions League.

For now I want to reserve judgment and watch. Clearly, a lot of work is being done. The results will not come overnight.

Frimpong: Another powerful, energetic performance from the youngster. Got back into the defensive line quite often and helped out at the back just like Song does in that role. Still needs technical improvement as his passing and touch aren’t as consistent as Arsenal need.

Arteta: Movement was impressive, linked up well with Rosicky and Arshavin, took a few pops at goal, worked hard at the back, taking rapid strides towards becoming a feared Arsenal midfielder.

Rosicky: Little Mozart made some delightful turns and some of his touches/passes were at a level higher than anyone else on the pitch bar Arshavin. Unfortunately, he lacked a bit of pace when he did get past his man. Good versatility as he did a fair job on the right once Ramsey came on.

The midfield has been showing signs of better co-ordination in the last couple of games. The cutting edge in congested areas is still not quite there but things are improving.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: Well-taken goal, made some quick, powerful runs down the right and put in a few good crosses. Will offer a lot more as he learns to use space better. Also needs better defensive awareness.

Chamakh: Exceptional work rate, some touches looked good, needs to develop his instincts inside the box.

Arshavin: Looked threatening in patches. Speed of thought and related touches were matched only by Rosicky. Might have offered a lot more with a more experienced winger and a better finisher alongside.

Subs: Ramsey and Robin provided work rate and bodies in the right areas. Gibbs was effective on the flank and his pace was useful.

Wenger/Rice: Fairly balanced team despite the rotations. Good adjustment in the second half. Substitutions were handy.

I thought the wide players didn’t offer enough support in the wider areas and the midfield wasn’t set up to account for that. This made the job of the full-backs much tougher and almost all the moves from the visitors originated down the flanks.

Nevertheless, in such a game it’s important to see key players getting some time on the pitch and youngsters showing they can learn. A satisfying win with some encouraging signs.


18 Responses to Arsenal 2 – 1 Olympiacos: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. oba olayinka says:

    I waited for this, thank God, you finally
    Bring it on!

  2. sam says:

    i have to disagree, yes it was good team performance but the attack was toothless. lets just hope arshavin and chamakh don’t start against sp*rs on sunday.
    that was really careless to keep arshavin on the pitch for 84 minutes, he looked tired and was clearly walking instead running to track back and almost cost us the game for failing to close down torisidis that allowed him to shoot and fortunately he hit the post.

    • Kayciey says:

      @Sam

      I disagree with you. Attack cannot be toothless when we scored 2 goals. by saying toothless you mean on cannot chew hence one cannot eat bar liquid food. In footballing that means one cannot score a goal. We scored two beautiful goals. Your criticism should be subjective. Chamakh worked very hard which compensated the goals he missed. Phil Jones was rubbish against Basel yet we cant hear the tirades we often subject Kos and Chamakh to. Get some life….support your team regardless or go support spuds, chelsea or shity.

  3. goonads says:

    The defence was constantly left exposed by the midfield – they either lost the ball or failed to put pressure on Olympiakos. Frimpong and Chamberlain were particularly guilty of this but it’s to be expected considering their inexperience.

    I hope Koscielny is back for Spurs – out of all the short-term injured players he’s the most important for me. His return also means Song can move back into midfield where he does an excellent job of breaking up opposition play.

  4. ZGunner says:

    Good write up. I would only add that Arteta’s last second save on the line gave our team a lot of confidence Wednesday.

  5. JJ Pittman says:

    Good post! We were the only English side to win in CL this week. Got to watch from the Blind Pig for the first time and loved it! Will be back Sunday for more! Was really worried when RvP was substituted. Defending a one-goal late, only need one forward and would have kept Chamakh. Especially worried when RvP was hammered to the turf shortly after he came on. Feel the side coming together and Sunday is critical. C’mon you Gooners!

  6. cupsui says:

    Good result and a pretty solid performance given the players out. Yes there were a few defensive issues but overall all it was a good job from the players that were out there esp in the 2nd half we looked rock solid (apart from that freak shot that hit the cross bar). your note on the set plays they came up with is very poignant! i remember thinking at about half time, they at least win the ball off every set piece they were taking, it was extraordinary!! we need to be more dangerous in that respect. Their deep movement on set plays really exposed the zonal marking too, another body or two need to be positioned at the edge of the box! santos too impressed although he did get a bit lazy in defence at one moment, threw out a leg and gave up…but after that he looked very solid defensively and chased, 2nd in MOTM behind song. a shout out to chamakh who once again was blasted by “fans”. he covered the most distance before he came off and worked so hard, pity he fluffed his chance cause he deserved that. definitely the area he needs to improve. Arshavin was back to lazy little shavs…very dissappointing from him…can be so dangerous and can work so much harder.
    As you said desi…Arteta is really starting to gel…he looks great!

    really looking forward to the derby!!

    team:
    Woj
    Sagna Merte Koz (song) santos
    Song (frimpong)
    Rambo Arteta
    Ox Gervinho
    RVP

    i think Ox and gervinho will be a good combo as gervinho is more direct and can get into the box and will be great for OX’s classy crossing and movement. Theo to make an impact off the bench…

  7. Another great review.. as usual. Mertesacker has been a “Per”fect addition to the squad and his tackling/ breaking up play in and around the box has really been impressive. He still needs to adapt to the pace of the English league but otherwise he seems to have brought a great amount of solidity to the defense ( both on the field and psychologically ).. As for the English media (and other detractors) who constantly doubt Mertesacker’s pace, please take a look at these stats before you make up your mind.

    http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/archive/southafrica2010/statistics/players/distanceandspeed.html

    Can’t wait for the “Vermertesacker” pair to terrorize the opposition…

  8. el bizarron says:

    I still fear a goal every time the ball comes near the Arsenal box. But after everything that has happened since February, I did a little dance after these 3 wins in a row (when was the last time that happened?). Spurs up next.

  9. Dove says:

    Team for Spurs

    Woj
    Sagna Merte Koz (song) Gibbs
    Song (Coquelin)Arteta
    Theo Rambo Gervinho
    RVP

    Gibbs has pace to deal with Bale.
    Theo is rested and is ready for the game.
    Frimpong is tired and looks sloopy for what would be a very pacy game. Coquelin suits for that.
    Wenger said, Koz is a doubt. It is very risky to start with unfit player.

  10. Dove says:

    Spurs Possible Line Up

    GK

    Walker Kaboul King Asa

    Modrich Park Sandro Bale

    Van D Adebayor

    I think we have a good team to match this line up. Maybe thier midfiled is a bit strong. I

  11. Rejoice says:

    Vintage Desi. Better than the others. The team is improving. Good result, given the circumstances. The manager should continue working.

  12. santori says:

    A decent and gritty win for us.

    We’re not at our authoratative best but we’re winning despite that which is a good sign (although we rode our luck with that effort from Satioridis Blimey!)

    Thought we were good going forward first 20 minutes and then we got a little complacent and mistakes started to happened. Thereafter, hadnbrakes came on in part because we curbed the instincts going forward in favour of caution.

    As a result, our efforts up front were not as effectively supported.

    Particularly, our off ball movement still needs some work (midfielders in particular) and our passing needs to be quicker.

    With the sort of players we have out wide (Gervinho, AOxC), we could well afford to dsitribute from flank to flank quicker (much like what United are good at), take advantage of the pace and get those wingers to bear goalwards more directly.

    Superb pass from Song to set up Ox. MOTM for me too.

    Let the press bleat on aboout how unconvincing we are despite being the only English team to win this week (Of course, United had the much feared Basle). Spurs are for the taking. Come on Arsenal!

  13. Timi Moody says:

    Lovely Analysis Desi! ’m a fond reader of your articles and i must say its one of the most balanced… i think the team is devoloping gradually, we are more like just out of our pre-season period as a team due τ̲̅ȍ the Nasri/Fab4 saga & the team wil flourish in October. Alex Song for me has been immense, he is integral τ̲̅ȍ the success of this team. Well done & more posts from me !

  14. Da klone says:

    Great post Desi. Regardless of what the media thinks, the team is improving per game. Its also encouraging to note that we have a good blend of second team players unlike last season. Come Sunday; Spurs will be GUNNED down!

  15. Gennie says:

    “Looking at the surprise on the face of most of the Gunners it was clear they had no clue. The coaches have to do a much better job of getting the organization right. And it’s not limited to organization alone. The change has to start from the way the manager, coaches, and the players think about defending.” I think sometimes we unfairly attribute the failure of Arsenal players to respond to situations by saying that there is lack of training.

    It was very clear (even if you and me were on the pitch, I am assuming you are not Puyol or any defender) that since Olympiakos went short, Arsenal players should have reacted by immediately pushing forward and covering space as well as opposition players. I do not believe this needs anybody to tell you. As professionals they need to adapt to situations. To give you an example watch the Shrewsbury highlights of Coquelin, there was free kick taken by Shrewsbury close to the Arsenal goal. The Shrews did not take it direct, but the first passed to the other to shoot, what followed impressed me immensely. Coquelin reacted fast and determinedly by pushing forward and blocking the shot. The way he conducted on the pitch had me saying that Arsenal now have somebody who can teach others even old heads something about defending set pieces (to be alert and improvise).

    Quite often Arsenal players tend to be frozen every time a set piece is taken against them while we see opposition players doing what Coquelin did against Shrewsbury. I can see you praised Frimpong but you also said there was space between midfield and the back four. This space thing, I do not know why you do not want lay blame on Frimpong’s door as it was his responsibility. I am of the opinion that Coquelin could have done better in place of Frimpong. He is dynamic, quick, sees danger quickly and takes action, closes people quickly thus avoiding danger, positioning too is good and has a turbo engine. He is a good passer and can set up other players to score.

  16. irish gooner says:

    another excellent match report 🙂

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