The result was a good one. The performance was not bad but it wasn’t great either. Wenger picked as strong a starting line-up as he could have from the players available so you’d expect Arsenal to dominate the game at home, but till Ramsey scored at the death, Olympiacos were just one mistake away from taking a point home. It was a nervy and at times frustrating display from the Gunners, particularly in the first half. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that even such an effort ultimately proved more than sufficient.
The first half was a tight one. Olympiacos came with a defensive mindset but not of the parking the bus variety. Their back line was relatively high and the first line of defence, as expected, was somewhere around the centre line. Jardim’s men allowed the Arsenal centre-backs some time on the ball but were very quick and efficient with their closing down when it was moved forward. They remained compact and moved around as a unit. This enabled the visitors to mark the forward players while closing down passing channels.
As a result Arsenal had a lot of passive possession in the middle third. The way out of this would be quick one-touch passing but some of the Gunners did not have the technical and tactical ability to do that successfully on a consistent basis.
Siovas was on Cazorla all through the first half and didn’t give the Spaniard any breathing room in the centre of the pitch. Santi often moved wide to receive the ball but even there he was often closed down by two or three opponents.
Furthermore, Coquelin did not show for the ball often enough. He should have shared Arteta’s burden but only attempted 59 passes for the Spaniards 103. Jenkinson, Vermaelen, and Koscielny all played significantly more passes. It indicates how often a player made himself available to receive the ball. The defenders were left free at times but we could see only Arteta was confident enough to show for the ball in tight spaces in front of the back four. This is where Arsenal missed a player like Song or Diaby who would also have come back just as often. It’s important because this creates more angles and makes the defensive side work that much harder. Even on the ball the youngster demanding more opportunities wasn’t completely convincing.
This meant Arsenal were forced wide but made the mistake of going to the right a lot more often. Perhaps this was down to the fact that Podolski didn’t offer enough width as he kept drifting inside. Oxlade-Chamberlain saw a lot of the ball but didn’t have the tactical maturity to use it quickly and efficiently. As a result he either ran into cul-de-sacs or lost possession through poor touches and rushed crosses.
Up front, Gervinho produced another hard working game but he too was typically guilty of losing the ball regularly. Moreover, since he is a runner he prefers balls in behind and was constantly looking for those. Arsenal could have used a striker who held his own in front of the centre backs and played lay-offs for advancing midfielders so the Gunners could gain in territory but Gervinho just couldn’t do it.
At the other end, Koscielny and Vermaelen continued their jittery form and this presented the visitors with some opportunities. Mannone was the busier Keeper in the first half and there was more action in and around the Arsenal penalty area than there was at the opposite end.
Arsenal only had 3 decent opportunities in the first half, if memory serves, and it’s worth noting all three came down the left. One was Cazorla’s free-kick, then there was the AOC header from a cross, and finally the goal.
It was created by quick combination play between Cazorla and Podolski down the left flank. For once the German hugged the touchline and the Spaniard went out wide to play a useful one-two that created space for Poldi to run into. His cross was more hopeful than precise though and to me the key detail in the goal was Arteta’s desire and awareness to pounce on the ball running across the edge of the box and ability keep it away from Holebas who tried stepping up. Ultimately, it fell to Gervinho who scuffed his shot but kept it on target. It was sufficient to beat the Keeper who was slow to react.
Arsenal’s collective concentration dropped after the goal, where have we seen that before, and the visitors were able to go into half-time on level terms. Oxlade-Chamberlain was in the inside right channel but did not close Siovas down who was able to spread the ball out wide. Gervinho was on the right flank but did not track the run of the full-back leaving Jenkinson in a one-v-two. This meant the full-back wasn’t able to close down Greco who had time and space to pick out a cross. Mitroglou got in between the two central defenders and finished the opportunity with a deft header that gave Mannone no chance.
Arsenal started the second half with greater purpose but more importantly they looked to attack the left flank from the start. Cazorla missed a gilt-edged chance before Podolski put Arsenal back in front. In both instances, Gervinho’s running in-behind was vital as was Podolski desire and movement.
After that goal the game opened up and both sides found space. But the Gunners did well to remain compact and limited clear-cut chances that Olympiacos could produce. There were some nervy moments but the visitors actually created fewer dangerous moments than the first half.
The tie was settled late in injury time through a Route One goal. Giroud showed strength to get on the end of a long goal-kick and controlled his header into the path of Ramsey who finished with aplomb.
It must be said Arsenal did really well in the final 10-15 minutes when one would have expected an onslaught from the visitors. All three substitutes made noteworthy contributions.
Mannone: There was that wayward pass to Vermaelen and the moment when he conceded a corner through sloppy handling but other than that he seemed confident and in control. Catching was good as was his positioning.
Jenkinson: Another top quality game from the youngster. Seems to be growing in confidence on the ball with each game and is getting bolder with his runs and decisions. Wasn’t able to close down the cross but he had a runner outside so I don’t blame him for that.
Koscielny: Nervy game from the Frenchman. Wasn’t assured in possession – there was the poor touch that led to a lunge and a yellow card, and many hoofed passes that had a hint of panic. Also missed a good chance as he blazed a free header over the bar. Relatively better in the second half but not close to his form from last season.
Vermaelen: Had a miscommunication with Mannone, played a stray pass in front of the box that led to a shot on target, and could have done better for the goal by getting tighter on Mitroglou. Also rushed forward a bit towards the end when staying back might have been the wiser choice. As the captain he needs to be the one who can command the entire team, especially the defence, and bring calmness to the side, but his recent efforts show there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Gibbs: Very similar to his recent impressive efforts. Showed good balance of attack and defence. Got into a threatening position often but can do better with his final ball.
Arsenal’s centre-backs saw a lot of the ball but didn’t seem completely confident. A more assured performance from those two might have given the team greater confidence to attack. Full-backs carried their good form forward.
Arteta: Mr. Dependable does it again. Wonder how tough this game would have been if he’d been injured, which does create an uncomfortable feeling for the future. MotM in my opinion as he excelled all over the pitch.
Cazorla: It was tough for him to find space but he did produce moments of quality in the wider areas. Decent defensive shift as well. Continues to struggle with his finishing.
Coquelin: Needs to do much better if he wants to come into the frame for a first choice place. That means he has to show for the ball more often and handle it adeptly under pressure. He also cannot let runners go like he did with Machado in the 35th minute.
It seemed the midfield was two and half men rather than three which limited the speed with which Arsenal could play.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Lost the ball far too often and was uncharacteristically sloppy in possession. Crossing wasn’t very good and offered very little invention when coming inside. Work rate was still good but has to develop his tactical understanding of game situations.
Gervinho: He was the MotM for many but for me it was a mixed bag from the Ivorian. Offered energetic running and a desire to get in behind but, as discussed above, there are aspects of his game that limit the quality of football that Arsenal can play with him as a striker. Was a tad lucky with is goal but fully deserved his assist and perhaps one more.
Podolski: Was anonymous for much of the first half but his run on the left created the opening for the goal. Played a big part in the chances created early in the second half and showed excellent composure for his goal. Arsenal need to get him into those positions more often.
The front three have to offer more at a team like Arsenal. They did enough to secure a result but one would hope for a more dominant display at home against Olympiacos.
Subs: Walcott made good use of the space after Giroud came on. Giroud got on the end of a couple of late chances and hit the target, also picked up a good assist. Ramsey was busy on the left and the finish was superb.
Wenger/Bould: They’d have been disappointed with the first half but fairly satisfied with the second. Substitutions worked well. Some work is needed to regain confidence and composure in the centre of defence.Follow @goonerdesi
These articles tend to get a little long and I have to cut out on a few observations or details to keep it from getting out of hand. Was wondering if I should break them up into two pieces – one would be the analysis of the match with a focus on various patterns of play that we see i.e. the match analysis part of this post; and the other would be individual analysis. By dividing it into two I can add more detail to the discussion. Would appreciate any feedback on this thought. Thanks in advance.