My my my. We really are something, aren’t we, eh?
Clock ticking down, time running out, 11 minutes plus stoppage time to turn what would have been a disappointing draw away to Olympiakos in Athens and up steps forward two unlikely goalscorers with two super goals to put us in control of this two-legged tie.
We don’t tend to finish games too strongly this season and so when we edged towards the 90 minute mark, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t expect us to do anything as Olympiakos stuck nine men and a ‘keeper behind the ball with one man up top in case of a lucky break. I thought to myself “this is it, still work to do at home next week” and I couldn’t see where a goal was coming from. After all, we’ve faced low-block teams again and again this season and last and so many times been found wanting. But when Willian – yes WILLIAN – clipped a decent ball in to the box for Gabriel Magalhães to leap like a 6ft 4inch salmon to nod home, I was stunned, shocked, happy, elated and all of those good emotions associated with football.
But that wasn’t even the cherry on a cake that had threatened to be half baked on the hour mark, because just for good measure and to send Twitter pundits like me into a “told ya so” death spiral, Mohammed Elneny pulls out a finish that was all kinds of sublime. He doesn’t often strike the ball that well – if ever – towards goal and I’m surprised he didn’t check back and pass back to his defender, but boy aren’t we glad he didn’t, because the howitzer he unleashed has given us some proper daylight in this two-legged tie.
It was just the tonic on a night in which we once again shot ourselves in the foot earlier in the game and means that Arteta can have a proper think about who he deploys in the home game and how next Thursday.
We should really have been out of sight a lot earlier to be honest though. We controlled possession, we created three times as many shooting chances as Olympiakos (18 to their six), we forced the ‘keeper in to a few saves and we looked like we were popping the ball around really well in that first half. We looked controlled, composed, like we could strike at any minute I felt and in commentary Steve Sidwell was saying the same. So when the excellent Ødegaard took the ball from about 30 yards out and drilled one home to put us ahead just after the half hour mark, I was thinking to myself “come on Arsenal, put this game to bed now”. At halftime it felt like a question of “how many” more than anything else.
But of course Arsenal be Arsenaling. So when Bernd Leno sold Ceballos a wee bit short, then the Spaniard couldn’t get his feet sorted out quickly enough, of course Olympiakos scored with one of only two shots in the entire game. That is what happens with us. Teams do absolutely nothing, then get one chance and ruthlessly punish our own brain farts. It is becoming a weekly occurrence. All I saw on social media after that was Arsenal fans digitally rolling their eyes at our ability to stupidify ourselves in to giving the opponents impetus and motivation. And for about five to ten minutes after that goal Olympiakos seemed to have a little bit more renewed vigor about their play. They seemed a little emboldened and I wondered whether another skanky goal for them was in the offing.
But the reality is that after that initial five minute spell after their equalizer, I think they realised that a draw at home was probably a decent enough result, so they sat back in to that low block I mentioned at the start of the blog. They were content with their lot and just wanted to see the game out. Which is why I am glad we got those two goals. For obvious reasons in terms of the game and tie, but also as a reward for Arsenal being the team looking to go and grab the game and get the win. We deserved it, we were the better team, we got what we should have got: a cushion to take back to the Emirates.
You could tell that Arteta wasn’t too happy though, despite the win, and cited the fact that we gave three really good opportunities away and they scored from one. His face told a picture and I’m glad that he probably got in to that dressing room afterwards and probably told the players that this has to stop. We won’t get much further in this competition if we keep giving opponents opportunities like we’ve been doing this season, but specifically each game in the last month or so. It has to stop.
He did take one interesting angle though, saying that it is positive because the fact it is our own mistakes means it is in our own control and in some sense, I guess he’s right. If we eradicate our own stupidity, we might actually be quite a formidable team. But I just question whether some of these players are good enough to remove those dumb moments completely. I just think that for some of them it is who they are. Which means that in the summer we need to be looking at moving away from a few of them. I think Arteta knows that and games like tonight – whilst ultimately pleasing – will give him more data and more information about his side and where he needs to replace some of the component parts of it for the 2021/22 season.
I think i’ll leave it there for today. A win is a good thing, we go in to the North London Derby in a positive frame of mind, so hopefully we see another good performance from the boys against The Scum on Sunday.
See you tomorrow.