Some things just don’t change.
Losing to Dinamo Zagreb was one thing, but then going down to an Olympiakos side Arsenal had routinely beaten at the last three attempts in north London has made progressing from Group F a whole lot harder.
Simply, Wenger’s decision to rest key stars backfired – namely giving David Ospina a charitable start, and the Colombian's howler gifting the visitors an easy second goal. His manager was bullish post-match, however.
“I don’t have to tell you why I picked Ospina," he declared. "I don’t have to give you an explanation... I make the decisions and I’m responsible for them. I know many things that maybe you don’t know and ignore.”
Unless you’re Bayern Munich, easy games in the Champions League don’t come around too often though. Wenger made five changes from Saturday’s 5-2 win at Leicester with Ospina, Gabriel and Kieran Gibbs named among the back five again like in Zagreb. Francis Coquelin returned from injury and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Aaron Ramsey. Here’s what happened...
1. Arsenal’s lack of attacking options haunted them
Theo Walcott netted the Gunners’ first equaliser before they pressed the self-destruct button, and provided the assist for Alexis Sanchez to head in the second, but his display was far from perfect. Though his goal came from a fine run, he should have squared for Santi Cazorla to apply the finish and got lucky when goalkeeper Jimenez Gago let his effort squirm under his body. In the second half when Arsenal camped in Olympiakos’s half, you couldn’t help but feel like Olivier Giroud – suspended from the first game – would have offered a welcome alternative and helped bring others into play.
Walcott was perfect in the first half when the hosts’ searing counter-attacks were causing havoc, but Wenger just didn’t have the tools at his disposal to significantly change the game after the break. That he didn’t feel the need to bring Joel Campbell on until the 86th minute told. Was there really nobody out there who could have strengthened his options in the summer? The jury's back with a guilty verdict on that one.
2 - Theo Walcott has scored in back-to-back Champions League games for the first time in his career. Flourishing.September 29, 2015
2. Olympiakos are better than we thought
This was a wholly different side from previous incarnations, and it was hard to come away without being impressed by the Greek side’s phenomenal defensive efforts. Bearing in mind how dominant they are domestically, Olympiakos were brilliantly organised at the back with Esteban Cambiasso and Pajtim Kasami impressively dogged when times were tough – practically acting as third and fourth centre-backs.
Meanwhile, wingers Felipe Pardo and Seba offered terrific relief down the channels and left-back Leandro Salino made Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain suffer (more on him later). Marco Silva’s men were forced to withstand heavy pressure after half-time but it wasn’t that way for 90 minutes and they did superbly to outnumber the Gunners immediately after conceding the second goal.
3. Brown Ideye has his uses
Olympiakos were a better side with the Nigerian in their team, and struggled somewhat after he was withdrawn at half-time. Four Premier League goals in 24 appearances at West Brom made him a laughing stock, but the 26-year-old – playing in his eighth Champions League match after previous experience in a three-year stint at Dynamo Kiev – held up the ball well and caused both Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel problems when Olympiakos went direct. His good work helped win the first corner from which his team scored.
Sub Alfred Finnbogason may have hit the winner with a fine finish, but the second half completely passed him by when Olympiakos needed him the most.
2 - Alfreð Finnbogason is the second Icelandic player to score in the Champions League, after Eiður Guðjohnsen (7 goals). Blue.September 29, 2015
READ ON Mesut and his problem...
4. Ozil rarely galvanises – and that’s a problem
Does the German only play well when his team-mates do, or is he really capable of grabbing games by the scruff and driving Arsenal on? Certainly on this occasion, the evidence pointed to the former. Ozil always receives plenty of the ball, but sometimes he can be guilty of circulating it simply rather than taking some necessary risks. He played only one successful pass into the box all game – not helped by the visitors’ deep defensive line, but a glance at his attacking-third passes points to a player who really wasn’t effective. Midfield partner Santi Cazorla at least tried to do more, and do it quicker, too.
5. Defensive woes still Arsenal’s biggest problem
“Some aspects of our game were quite good but we lacked quality in our defensive concentration,” groaned Wenger. “We had a bit of bad luck as well. They had four shots on target and scored three goals.
“At 2-2 we give them straight away 3-2 and that was of course the turning point. We gave a lot with 65% possession but tonight we feel guilty because we gave easy goals away.”
Olympiakos targeted Hector Bellerin in the first half, found joy sniffing possession from longer balls aimed towards Arsenal’s centre-backs, while Ospina’s error topped the lot.
Wenger will be furious that the visitors were able to score their winner so easily and so soon after his side got themselves back level, however, with Arsenal totally at sea from kick-off. This is no new problem for the Gunners – and you have to ask the simple question whether their backline will ever be good enough again under Wenger to form the bedrock of a successful trophy challenge.
6. Oxlade-Chamberlain must up his game
Only recently, Wenger called for the Englishman to show what he's really made of this season. “I see Alex train every day,” he said. “He is dedicated, focused, and hungry. But his dad said he lacks a bit of self-belief and I can confirm that because he is very critical of himself. That's positive and a sign of top-level sportsmen, but you have to find the right balance of being not happy without harming the confidence.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain is an immensely likeable player – quick, hard-working and capable of scoring goals – but those attributes don't always come together as often as they perhaps should do. When things aren't going well, his head has a tendency to drop.
Arsenal's wingplay was lopsided here. On the opposite flank was an insatiable Sanchez head and shoulders above his team-mates, but sometimes simply for the way he stomped around the pitch aiming to cause problems. Perhaps his young team-mate should take inspiration to inject some much-needed confidence into his game. The Stats Zone grab below indicates how the two players' mentalities varied – Oxlade-Chamberlain was forced to play backwards too often.
Analyse Arsenal vs Olympiakos yourself with Stats Zone
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