Well I guess we got through and that, first and foremost, is the most important thing on a night in which the Scum utterly diarrhea’d in their own bed to go out to Dinamo Zagreb.
Arteta even mentioned their exit in terms of how we have to sort out displays like last night because what we were subjected to in terms of individual game performance wasn’t really good enough against an Olympiakos team who were at best average.
The team news had plenty of rotation about it and to be honest with you I was kind of ok with that. A lot of energy was expended from the North London Derby and there are plenty of players who have played a lot of football lately. But whilst Emile Smith-Rowe said that fatigue might have been a small reason for the performance, I can’t really be having that given the faces that came in. Bellerin, Ceballos, Elneny, Pepe and Aubameyang all didn’t start the NLD and so fatigue can hardly be used an an excuse for five of the XI, although it was some of the aforementioned players who didn’t have their best days in an Arsenal shirt, it has to be said.
Auba, for example, missed a hat full of chances. His best was in the first half when slipped through in front of the ‘keeper and he wildly blazed over. In the second half he had a few more chances but looked decidedly off-key and whilst some people have questioned whether Sunday’s omission had an impact, I just don’t buy that. As soon as a player gets out on the pitch they are focused on that moment alone and I just think he – and a few others – had an off day.
I think the psychology of the tie had an impact. I was worried about that in yesterday’s pre match blog and I wanted to see a professional Arsenal performance. And to be fair at half time we were at 0-0 and it felt like if we could just cruise through and keep them at arms length for the game, this will be a relatively unproductive but untroubling evening. But Arsenal be Arsenaliing, as the phrase goes, and is being used by yours truly here with alarming regularity.
We were just sloppy at times. There was a moment in the first half in which their ‘keeper just punted it down the middle and both of our centre halves got drawn under the ball for El-Arabi to bear down on goal. Only a Leno stop prevented us from going behind at the break. It was really basic stuff and seeing both of our central defenders lose their heads for a moment should really have been a wake up call for us.
But it wasn’t, not really, and we kind of sleep-walked into the second half with some of those players not playing at 100% at all. Again, to reiterate, I think it was a indset thing because we were two goals to the good and an extra away goal, so only a Spursian meltdown would see us out. But when El-Arabi got his goal on 51 minutes, all of a sudden I’m sure you – like me – was looking at the time left and thinking how uncomfortable this could be if we conceded another in quick succession.
For the goal itself it was Dani Ceballos who dwelt on the ball too long when releasing it in the final third would have put us in. Instead he was easily dispossessed and Olympiakos countered with a little bit of fortune from the deflected finish. But we should deflect ourselves; it was a poor goal to concede and it is not the first time this season – or in this competition – in which Dani Ceballos has buggered up. I’d love to say he’s getting all of these errors out of his game, but as we’ve seen with all of this Arsenal team, the proficiency with which we are able to shoot ourselves in the foot has a worrying level of consistency to it.
So, one down, looking shaky and Mikel immediately makes some subs in the form of Partey and Odegaard for Elneny and Ceballos. Both had been either average or poor, but I thought the stability both of the oncoming subs gave us at least enabled us to steady the ship. We started to get on the ball and created a few chances. It did feel like “one of those nights” though; when Pepe found space after another good Tierney cut back, he hit a rocket goalbound only to have it ricochet off Smith-Rowe and go over for a goal kick. That pretty much summed up our evening and when Olympiakos started to push bodies forward in the last 20 minutes, we had a bit more space that we should have exploited but didn’t.
The red card was a little bit of a joke really. The first foul you can have no complaints over, but to get a second yellow straight away after hitting the ball down on to the turf was just stupid. I’ve got a mate up north – Burnley fan – who messaged to say it looked harsh. It was, but I reminded him that it’s what you get in Europe; we’ve seen Robin van Persie get sent off for playing on just two seconds after the whistle had gone in Barcelona, so we are not unaware of the stupidity of some European refs.
It meant a little bit more space but you could tell that we just wanted to see it out and whilst ultimately we did, you can understand why Arteta himself was frustrated with the performance. You can’t have that kind of mentality in elite sport and it is something I hope he and the players take a look at because we can’t have another performance like that in Europe. Better teams will punish us for it.
But as I said at the top of the blog we are through and that is the most important thing. We move on to the next round and play any one of Man United, Roma, Zagreb, Slavia Prague, Villareal, Granada or Ajax. The first two are the big giants from a name perspective, but there are still a few teams in there that can trouble us more than Olympiakos did. Let’s just cross our fingers it’s not Man United though, because I suspect they are now favourites for the competition.
We’re so getting them now, aren’t we?
Catch you tomorrow with some Saturday musings.