Quite often we are accused of being more interested in playing pretty than grinding out a result when we really need to get a result. This time we dug in as the occasion demanded and ground out a result. No, it wasn't vintage Arsenal by any stretch of the imagination on the night but it's three points in the bag. Six points out of six. That is what the records will say and that is really all that matters. No one will remember the nail-biting ninety minutes that was endured to secure this win. No one will care that we didn't play well on the night. The only statistic that matters ultimately went in our favour. Arsenal 3 - Olympiakos 1.
On a night that Steve Bould once more took the reins while his boss served out the second of a three-match ban imposed by UEFA, we started quite positively as we kept possession and moved the ball around really well. The Greeks stayed well organised and for all our possession, they proved really difficult to break down and were first to make any meaningful threat on goal. Then we got into this period when we invited pressure by all manners of sloppy passing, giving away the ball in dangerous areas that called to question the sobriety of Vermaelen and his partner in central defense. There will be a brief inquest into the performances of those two in a bit.
Gervinho's goal in the 42nd minute came against the run of play after Olympiakos missed a couple of excellent chances that should have had us chasing the game. It was a seemingly tame short on goal and the wet conditions may have had a lot to do with why the Olympiakos goalie, Megyeri was unable to cover enough ground before making a full stretch dive yet failed to stop the ball from dripping over his goal line. But what the hell. It was a goal and we needed that to steady nerves and settle down to playing our football. Well, those were my thoughts at the time.
Nerves certainly weren't settled by that goal -at least not Vermaelen's and Koscielney's. Three minutes later, on the stroke of half time, while the Emirates faithful still celebrated the lead, they allowed Mitroglou get in-between them at the end of a Greco cross and improbable as it seemed at the time, he attacked the ball and out-jumped both center-halves to head the ball beyond Mannone. First half over. Arsenal 1 - Olympiakos 1
How did we get from impenetrable to porous in two games please? #AFCvOLYPodolski was invisible for most of the first half. As he has done previously this season when he had seemed lost in a few games, he popped up at the end of a Gervinho cross into the area to drill the ball through the
— Lalah (@naijaendgooner) October 3, 2012
Nerves were better settled this time but the Greeks weren't just going to roll over and die. They kept chipping away, intent to get a long awaited result in England but the clearer chances fell for Cazorla who fluffed his lines and failed to hit the target and Koscielney who headed over the cross-bar when it seemed easier to score.
Theo came on for Ox in the the 71st minute and I must say he had more impact down that right hand side in twenty minutes than Ox did while he was on. Problem is that is not where he wants to be.
Giroud and Ramsey replaced Gervinho and Podolski in the 80th minute and Giroud was unfortunate not to score after Theo found him with a low cross in the six yard box but the ball went straight to the Olympiakos keeper. His hard luck wasn't letting off as an opportunity fell for him in the closing stages when Cazorla's cross fell for him but his one-time shot was blocked off at point blank range by Dimitrios Siovas.
Ramsey wrapped it up in injury time when Giroud's flicked header from a long goal kick by Mannone fell for him and he bounded off into the penalty area and executed a perfect chipped shot over the onrushing Megyeri. Arsenal 3 - Olympiakos 1. I could finally get my finger nails away from my teeth.
The line-up on the night did not present much of a surprise other than Koscielney who I had tipped to start from the bench after his display last Saturday against Chelsea and even went further to promise a lager to anyone who called me out on the bet if Kos started ahead of Per. Hadn't reckoned on Per getting sick, making way for a Vermaelen and Koscielney central defense partnership once again. Will get to that shortly.
Arteta passed a late fitness test to take his place in front of the back four with Coquelin to share defensive duties in the midfield in the absence of Diaby. Coquelin was quietly effective on the night and had a moment of concern when he pulled up off the ball and grabbed his thigh in pain but was able to see the game through.
Wenger (or is it Bould) opted for Gervinho to lead the line ahead of Giroud for the third successive game and he repaid that faith with his fifth goal of the season and an assist for Podolski's goal, not to talk of his consistent harassment of the Olympiakos back line. I'm not so sure if he too nurtures the idea of evolving full time into a center forward but he's pitching in with goals and certainly can't be helping Theo's desire to move into that position as well as Giroud whose position that should be but has failed to make it his own.
I think the balance of the team looked quite lopsided in large parts for most of the game and I'll put it down to Diaby's absence. Which is to say that I think we are missing his imposing presence, his ability to shield the ball and drive it forward with those long strides of his. On account of his performances in the past couple of games as a substitute, I'd rather have had Ramsey start ahead of Coquelin at times like this but will be much gladder when Jack is available for first team duties.
The depth we boasted at the beginning of the season due to the number of options available in midfield is currently facing a stiff test and I'm not so sure it's standing up to scrutiny in the full glare of bright lights. I am afraid of what would have happened out there if Arteta had failed the late fitness test and had been unavailable for selection. I really don't see from where I'm seated how Coquelin and Ramsey would have handled the pressure that we faced against Olympiakos last night.
A Brief Inquest Into Some Awful Defending
How have we gone from impenetrable in the first five games of the season to porous in our last two games? So impenetrable that we conceded our first two goals of the season in our first five games from a goalkeeping howler and a penalty kick? So impenetrable that pundits and critics alike were falling over themselves in praise of Arsenal because it seemed we had finally overcome what had become known as our "defensive frailties". No team ever won the championship by having the kind of dismal defensive records we have had in the past couple of years so little wonder that this new look Arsenal were given an outside chance of winning the league by book makers. That has changed by a mile in the last two games as either or both of our central defenders have directly or indirectly been responsible for the three goals we've conceded in the last two games and all from open play.
Our current full backs were cause for concern at the beginning of this season but are arguably the most consistent performers in the squad so far this season. Neither have been found wanting in their primary duties of preventing enemy incursions through the flanks nor their secondary duties of supporting any forays into enemy territory. While young Carl has proved a true revelation deputizing for Sagna who has been out injured, Gibbs seems to have matured and undoubtedly has a better sense of positioning than he did last season.
Our center halves are an entirely different story. Kos was out injured for the first few games of the season if not Per might not have started this season as Vermaelen's partner in central defense since both Verm and Kos did an excellent job together in the later stages of last season. But Per seized his opportunity with both hands when he started the season as Vermaelen's partner and completely changed the general perception that he is slow and unable to handle the fast pace of the English Premier League. Pairing with Vermaelen, they went five games without conceding a goal in open play and all we could talk about at the beginning of the season was Steve Bould and the extraordinary work he was doing with our defense.
In the game against Chelsea, Vermaelen's charge-and-think-later style of stopping opponents were responsible for both free kicks that led to the goals we conceded against Chelsea with Koscielney found culpable for both when he failed to deal with the free kicks. Against Montpellier on match day one, Vermaelen was responsible for conceding a penalty with the same kind of challenge. Against Olympiakos last night, Koscielney might easily have been sent off on another day for one crude tackle in the first half. Vermaleen on the other hand charged down an Olympiakos attacker just outside the eighteen yard box giving away a free kick in a dangerous area -again.
Stop fucking doing that Vermaelen...every fucking weekI obviously wasn't the only one that noticed. We didn't pay for it that time but we did against Chelsea and we will against opponents with a bit more quality than Olympiakos possessed.
— LadyArse (@LadyArse) October 3, 2012
It's inevitable really that Vermaelen and Koscielney will find themselves playing together some of the time over the course of the season so pitching for Per to replace either one of the two as the preferred first choice pairing in central defense isn't worth the trouble. Both have got to work on their partnership and ensure it works. Right now it's fucking disgraceful.
The most important thing is that we won and came away with three points so we lead the group with six points after the Schalke and Montpellier game ended in a draw. leaving us looking good for the head-to-head against Schalke on match days 3 and 4.
Most importantly, we have quickly banished the ghosts of the home loss last weekend against Chelsea and will approach the away game against Alladyrce's West Ham on Saturday with more confidence. After that game, we will endure another two weeks of an international break but considering Diaby's injury which should have blown over by the end of the break and Wilshere's expected return to first team duties, it couldn't have come at a better time. Barring any further injuries, we should once more be looking good after the break. I'm probably getting ahead of myself here, we do need to got to West Ham first on Saturday and get all three points then we can head into the break with smiles on our faces.
Before I go, I extend my condolences to the Arsenal Blogger known as Mister Spruce who lost his elder bro to illness yesterday in a German hospital. My prayers are with you and your family at this sad time. I share your grief, my brother.
Will be back, brethren. Holla!
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