Death, taxes and Arsenal drawing one of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Olympiacos in a European competition. Last season was the same and proved to be the catalyst for the closure of English football after Mikel Arteta’s brush with the Olympiacos backroom staff result in the Spaniard testing positive for COVID-19 and English football being suspended.
Playing away in Greece ahead of a crunch North London Derby match with José Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur may not be ideal, but as Mikel Arteta said in his press conference, Arsenal needed to play the hand they were dealt.
In fact, Olympiacos’ Karaiskakis Stadium seems to have become a European home away from home after Arsenal played both the first leg and second leg of their European Round of 32 tie with Benfica owing to COVID restrictions for the return legs.
Arsenal started off their Round of 16 tie well, creating plenty of chances early on, with Martin Ødegaard sliding his early chance wide. It was a guilt-edged chance that the Norwegian will feel he should have converted.
The pressure continued from there, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s header cannoning off the crossbar a few minutes later.
However, it took until the 34th minute for Arsenal to break the deadlock. A high press from Bukayo Saka and Héctor Bellerín forced Olympiacos into a sloppy error, which allowed Thomas Partey to give the ball to Ødegaard, who took aim and fired an absolute screamer into the back of the net from a good thirty-five yards. Questions will be asked of the goalkeeper and his positioning, but take nothing away from Ødegaard’s effort, which flew into the back of the net.
As with pretty much every game so far this season, none more so than lat Saturday’s draw with Burnley, Arsenal’s biggest threat is Arsenal. The team’s insistence on playing out from the back was highlighted once again as Bernd Leno fed the ball into Dani Ceballos’ feet who failed to trap the ball properly and Youssef El-Arabi was released and the striker fired Olympiacos level with a well-placed shot.
Despite this most recent of self-inflicted setbacks, Arsenal showed a lot of resilience and soon found themselves back in the lead again as Willian’s whipped ball into the box found the head of Gabriel Magalhães who’s cannon ball of a header looped into the back of the net.
But Arsenal weren’t done there, soon enough Mohamed Elneny found himself free as a bird in the centre of midfield and the Egyptian fired off an absolute rocket which flew past goalkeeper José Sá and gave Arsenal a comfortable lead and three away goals.
It was a fairly impressive performance from Arsenal, not least because of the quality of the three goals scored, but also for the amount of chances Arsenal managed to create.
Martin Ødegaard will be happy with the fact that he has opened his Arsenal account, but the main source of creativity on the night seemed to have come from a somewhat revamped Willian. The Brazilian’s wing-play with Kieran Tierney produced some of the game’s most incisive attacks and it was no surprise that he was the one who laid the assist off for Gabriel Magalhães’ header.
Another key performance was the performance Gabriel Magalhães. His goal will be what sweeps the headlines, but his game overall was second-to-none and seemed to be a resurgence of his earlier season form, where he was a rock at the back for Arsenal.
Arsenal can go into their second leg with more of a happier heart than many would have thought likely, but for now, their focuses turns to Tottenham.
1.) Bernd Leno
2.) Héctor Bellerín
23.) David Luiz
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhala
18.) Thomas Partey (Ceballos 55′)
12.) Willian (Elneny 82′)
11.) Martin Ødegaard (Smith Rowe 82′)
7.) Bukayo Saka (Pépé 82′)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Lacazette 88′)
33.) Maty Ryan
44.) Karl Jakob Hein
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
21.) Calum Chambers
17.) Cédric Soares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
8.) Dani Ceballos
32.) Emile Smith Rowe
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
1.) José Sá
72.) Kenny Lala
15.) Sokratis Papastathopoulos
6.) Yann M’Vila
45.) Oleg Reabciuk (Holebas 45′)
5.) Andreas Bouchalakis (c)
4.) Mady Camara
19.) Giorgos Masouras (Androutsosat 86′)
28.) Mathieu Valbuena (Fortounis 45′)
11.) Youssef El-Arabi (Hassan 77′)
88.) Konstantinos Tzolakis
44.) Ilias Karargyris
21.) Mohamed Dräger
25.) José Holebas
7.) Kostas Fourtounis
90.) Vasilis Sourlis
14.) Thanasis Androuts
97.) Lazar Randjelović
9.) Ahmed Hassan