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Well, it was quite definitely not exactly the way Mikel planned it, but I’m sure there were elements of his plan here and there in Arsenal’s exciting win at Olympiakos in the first leg of the Europa League Round of 16.  Yes, there were several gaffes to be seen but also lots of positives and hey, we won to set up the second leg to our advantage, and that’s surely all that really matters tonight.  Fortune seemed to favor us though, and at least two moments could have completely changed the game if they hadn’t gone Arsenal’s way including Bellerín’s goal-saving deflection when El-Arabi seemed destined to put Olympiacos into a second half lead, and the correct VAR decision (credit to the UEFA referee) allowing Gabriel’s great goal to stand, but the game could have gone either way despite lengthy spells of Arsenal domination, and speaking after the game Arteta seemed to agree: “I am happy with the result, but I am not satisfied with how we controlled the game through 95 minutes.”

No doubt we all felt a modicum of déjà vu watching this away leg, remembering that these clubs were paired six times since 2009/10 including last season’s Europa League Round of 32 when Olympiacos eliminated the Gunners with the winning goal in London in the dying minutes of extra time. For the sake of comparison with tonight’s team I looked back at Osaka Matt’s fine match report on last year’s away leg  https://www.goonerholicsforever.com/?p=322 and noted numerous changes in Mikel Arteta’s team selection (six different players and one or two positional shifts).  Among the Arsenal starters last time around, several players have been off-loaded while others were unavailable for this evening’s game: Guendouzi and Willock being on loan, Sokratis and Mustafi sold, and Martinelli among the unused substitutes.  Arteta, surely knowing Arsenal could benefit by deploying a pacy winger to tire the aging legs of Sokratis in the Olympiakos defence, (un)surprisingly called upon the aging Willian in his starting XI but was rewarded when the Brazilian sent in the corner for compatriot Gabriel’s match winner.  Knowing we face a season-defining run of games in the next week or so, this is the team the gaffer sent out: 


Bellerín  Luiz  Gabriel  Tierney

Thomas  Xhaka

Willian  Ødegaard  Saka


(contrasted to last year’s team in this leg:)


Sokratis  Mustafi  Luiz  Saka

Guendouzi Willock  Xhaka

Aubameyang  Martinelli


Olympiakos were anchored by captain Bouchalakis in midfield but Ba, their Senegalese centre back, was withdrawn at the last minute so M’Vila moved into defence alongside Sokratis, who joined Olympiacos from Arsenal in January and played on the right side without particularly distinguishing himself.  Up front the Olympiakos attackers included the 34 year-old El-Arabi who scored the killer goal against Arsenal last year, and had scored 18 goals in 22 games this season, but after tonight that became 19 in 23 thanks to some Arsenal generosity.

Arsenal controlled the opening exchanges, and with only two minutes gone Ødegaard missed a great chance on his preferred left foot after he was set up by a great left wing cross by Tierney.  Three minutes later Auba, who was set up by Bellerín’s accurate right wing cross, hit the post after his header was deflected twice including a great save by the keeper.  When Saka was stepped on by an Olympiakos player, the Spanish language announcer and I agreed, “Para mi es tarjeta roja” or “That’s a red card for me” but the young German referee waved play on.  Saka just missed connecting to Tierney’s left wing cross on 14 minutes, but Arsenal’s opportunities were coming thick and fast, and the Olympiacos defence was being stretched.  Willian won a central free kick outside the Olympiacos box, but Luiz’ effort went straight at the keeper.

On 19 minutes Sokratis won a free kick on the right, but Valbuena couldn’t put it into the box.  On the ensuing Arsenal throw in, Ødegaard gave it away carelessly and dangerously deep in Arsenal’s half to an Olympiakos attacker who shot straight at Leno.  A minute later Arsenal won a central free kick but Auba sent it straight at their keeper.  Arsenal broke again, and after Ødegaard found Saka in space he was brought down cynically but no yellow was given.  The free kick was taken by Xhaka straight into the wall.  Ødegaard failed to understand Bellerín’s body language and the Scandinavian’s ball went out of play when the Spaniard checked his run.  On 33 minutes Auba was freed in space on the left but took a second too long and his shot was blocked.  A minute later, seeing nobody challenging him 30 yards from goal, Ødegaard, who hadn’t been our best player by any means, let go with a left footed screamer that must have changed direction (slow motion replay showed the ball barely rotating at all) and the announcer cried “golazo” even though the keeper allowed it to fly right past his ear.

Olympiacos 0-1 Arsenal (Ødegaard, 34 minutes)

The referee finally consented to give Bouchalakis a caution for stepping on Saka as he was about to break on 36 minutes.  Luiz then gave it away very sloppily in the Arsenal area on 39 minutes but Bruma shot wildly with the goal gaping.  Gabriel was carded for a clumsy challenge in midfield on 44 minutes before Willian’s short corner should at least have been sent into the box, but first half time elapsed with Arsenal leading 1-0 and having enjoyed the great majority of possession and the better chances.

The second half began much as the first had ended, with Arsenal in the ascendancy.  On 55 minutes Arteta made the first change, replacing Thomas in midfield with Dani Ceballos.  Three minutes later, and I can’t tell you if Ceballos had even made his first touch, Leno and Arsenal repeated their collective error at Burnley.  This time the keeper, having received a back pass from Gabriel out of his area, passed to Ceballos in a dangerous central situation instead of Xhaka.  Olympiacos’ pressing attackers undoubtedly having watched the Burnley footage, El-Arabi took advantage and pounced to relieve Dani of the ball and slot it into the corner as an out-of-position Leno retreated and a chorus of Arsenal fans wondered “Not again?”

Olympiacos 1-1 Arsenal (El-Arabi, 58 minutes)

Arsenal let the game drift over the next ten minutes with the shock of conceding and on 66 minutes nearly conceded again after a nice right wing move by Olympiacos set up El-Arabi for a great chance that seemed destined to put his side into the lead but Hector’s sliding tackle deflected it wide for a corner.  Arsenal’s attacking in the next 15 minutes was too slow and featured too many sideways passes, and I feared Arsenal might get careless again.  But on 79 minutes, just as Nicolas Pépé was waiting on the touch line, presumably to replace Willian, the Brazilian sent in a great corner that a leaping Gabriel reached majestically, and sent a peach of a looping header into the far corner turning the game on its head.  There was no doubt about it being a goal in my mind but the VAR intervened delaying the game longer than it should have, but the referees came up with the right decision in the end and the goal stood.

Olympiacos 1-2 Arsenal (Gabriel, 79 minutes)

On 82 minutes Arteta made a double change replacing Saka with Pépé, and Ødegaard with Smith Rowe, a move that re-energized the Gunners in the closing minutes, and seemed to stabilize some shaky nerves.  After Bellerín’s cross went tantalizingly all the way along the Olympiacos goal line without going in, out of nearly nowhere Elneny did his own version of what Ødegaard did in the first half, giving Arsenal a 3-1 advantage.

Olympiacos 1-3 Arsenal (Elneny, 85 minutes)

On 88 minutes Lacazette replaced Auba and almost set up Pépé for a fourth goal two minutes later.  Five minutes of added time played out relatively uneventfully putting Arsenal into good position for the return leg.  Arteta’s five substitutes (Ceballos, Elneny, Lacazette but especially Pépé and Smith Rowe) gave Arsenal renewed energy and initiative after the setback of conceding threatened to stall our forward motion and bring a repeat of the Burnley disappointment.  Elneny might just have given us the crucial third away goal that could seal the deal, but let’s not say so until the team has truly earned it.  There were many good performances in the Arsenal side, notably Gabriel, Tierney and Bellerín whose work was not only beneficial but even belletristic at times.  Putting it in a nutshell, Arsenal repeated their win at Olympiacos of last season and went a step better scoring three away goals not just the one.  Now the small matter of the North London Derby will take all of Arsenal’s attention but in one week’s time at the Emirates the Gunners will be well positioned to take revenge for the reversal suffered at the hands of Olympiacos 13 months ago.  A momentous week lies ahead but fortune could be with us if our last two Europa League games are any indication.

39 Drinks to “Just the way Arteta planned it?”

  1. 1
    Steve T says:

    Top corner. Get in.

  2. 2
    Steve T says:

    Cheers BT8. Nice stuff. Like many, I’m not sure what happened after our second. I thought thst VAR had concluded fairly rapidly that it was a goal. The time was taken with the alleged injury and substitutions. But to be honest, none of it was at all clear.

    As I said in the previous set of drinks, we were one horrendous cock up away from this being a really great away day. We have to eradicate these errors or they will continue to cost us dear.

    Whilst no one was outstanding, I don’t think anyone had a poor game. Saka looks to me like he needs a break. Willian again chipped in with another assist. A bizarre fact I heard yesterday was that he has more assists than any Arsenal player this season in the league??? Who would have thought that?

    I know we came away with a good victory but I still think at times MA8 is a bit over cautious. I’m not quite sure why Martinelli isn’t getting more game time at the moment I must say.

    On to the weekend. Now that has to be a must win game?

    Have a good day people.

  3. 3
    TTG says:

    Thankyou for a very balanced and enjoyable report. I agree with all your main points on a good night for us. Certainly Leno was primarily culpable for the goal and up to his goal Ødegaard had not been impressing . The result is excellent although if this Olympiakos side is sixteen points clear in the Greek League it doesn’t say much for Greek football !
    It’s hard to pick a MOTM as Steve says above , but I thought Gabriel played particularly welll ( at both ends ) and Tierney was indefatigable. He has created more chances ( 35 so I’m told ) of any Arsenal player . For the sake of balance let me point out I thought Xhaka had a steady game .
    I’m a bit concerned that Partey is still sone way from the midfield powerhouse we thought we had purchased in September . We are being understandably cautious with him but he lost the ball several times yesterday .
    Arteta seemed very downbeat afterwards considering the result . That may be because the folly of trying to implement a high-risk strategy on some players unsuited to it is dawning on him. Leno escaped most of the criticism on Saturday but deserved most of it today . I get the theory of playing out from the back but Leno had a much safer option to his right yesterday and while sucking in four opposition players is tempting the receiving player needs to have an obvious out ball to make it work . Sometimes leathering a clearance really is the best option .

  4. 4
    Esso says:

    Cheers BtM!

  5. 5
    Bathgooner says:

    Thanks for a most enjoyable report to which to wake up, bt8. Had it not been for the suicidal gift of a goal, a similar but nonfatal act of stupidity in the first half and the jittery ten or so minutes after conceding the equaliser when the players must have been thinking the same as we were, that would have been a very good away performance. I have to observe that “Not again?” doesn’t entirely cover the Anglo-Saxon coloured language used in this house at that point in the game. I imagine it was the same in most of the Goonerverse. Your refinement does you proud, sir. It’s no wonder that MA8 had a face like fizz in his post match interview. I wonder what the Basque for those words is? I do agree with your choice for man of the match – we had recovered our poise after nearly going behind and Gabriel who was rock-like at the back leapt like a salmon to put us back in control – well deserved accolade.

    I desperately hope that there are no injuries or tired legs to prevent MA8 from selecting our strongest and most determined 11 for the weekend’s forthcoming scrap against that shower from the shit-hole.

  6. 6
    Countryman100 says:

    A fine report Bt8. We’ve all seen this movie before. Dominate the opposition, miss a few chances, gift them three top chances on a plate of which they scored one. Yet we scored three worldies and walked off with a comfortable win. I am convinced this team is moving in the right direction, even if we don’t make one of the European competitions next season.

  7. 7
    bt8 says:

    Very sad news that Sheff Utd are parting ways with Chris Wilder, a very large figure in the history of their club. What more he could have done I don’t quite know but he brought them up from the third tier to a glorious first season in the Premier League and certainly deserves respect.

  8. 8
    North Bank Ned says:

    A fine and fair match report, bt8, that captured the ebb and flow of the game. With our missed chances at the front and gifts at the back, a better team than Olympiacos could have been out of sight with a third of the game still to play despite our superior possession. It was concerning how ragged we became in the spell after their equaliser. But thanks to Gabriel and Elneny, at least we don’t have a mountain to climb in the return leg.

  9. 9
    North Bank Ned says:

    It must be tough on Chris Wilder to leave the club he supported as a boy, then played for and finally managed, taking them from the third tier to a tenth-placed finish in the Premiership. Clearly, there were differences between him and the owner over the transfer spending needed to keep Sheffield Utd in the Premiership, but the table is heartless and unforgiving. Nonetheless, I suspect Wilder won’t be short of job offers.

  10. 10
    Uplympian says:

    A very fine, well constructed report bt8. We are becoming a team that delights & frustrates in equal measure. Despite the latter I feel progress is being made & we can look forward to better things….how soon though?
    All the team played well, notwithstanding the brain farts. Oedegaard is an interesting player. He struggled with his touch to start with but after his great goal, he settled more into it. He has a quick eye for a telling pass. When him & the team are on the same wavelength then a very fine player could unfold. Bearing in mind he has only been here for a few weeks there’s every opportunity he will get used to playing in the premier league and it’s demands. I expect if he does make that grade before the end of the season Madrid will either recall him him or put on a price tag beyond our reach.
    Much more important right now of course is Sunday’s match against the swamp dwellers – a win is necessary, no ifs, ands, & buts. Mikel’s team selection yesterday was “on the money” – the next match he must get it exactly right. No pressure!

  11. 11
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Well-summarized, concise and incisive reporting bt8!

    Even though my predicted scoreline came true I don’t think we played that well collectively. We scored three excellent goals and controlled the midfield, but we didn’t handle their press in our defensive third at all and we didn’t create enough opportunities. I know Saka even when running at half his usual speed is still capable of match winning moments but should we really push an 19 years old that much? Couldn’t Pépé — who looked lively in his cameo — or Martinelli have played that role yesterday? Anyway, sure Mikel has some grand plan about rotating his squad the right way everyone will get to contribute at their very best.

    Partey has a lot of promise but he still isn’t press resistant. And of course neither is Xhaka or Ceballos. Mo is a rather quotidian player we can all agree but he rarely makes suicidal mistakes…

    Willian got an assist yesterday but much of the credit goes to Gabriel who had to take a step or two back before generating that power and loop in the header. One of the best headed goals for us in recent years.

    Hector lately has been inconsistent but yesterday had a good game. Both him and Tierney was well prepared for the Olympiacos tactics of using Valbuena’s quick feet and then switch flanks.

    Let us hope we will see a somewhat refreshed line-up against the LWCs and more clarity in our playing out of defense.

  12. 12
    Trev says:

    Cheers, bt8,

    Fine work and interesting to see how last night’s lineup differed from last year’s. We should be home and dry, as long as the players don’t already think so, but we absolutely have to cut out these stupid and unnecessary errors. To have to keep physically fighting so hard to get back into games we were completely controlling, is madness – especially when the schedule is so tightly packed and energy sapping.

    Very good result but ultimately a bit lucky to get away with it – Okympiakos proving that we’re not the only ones who can miss great chances.

  13. 13
    Trev says:

    “Mo is a rather quotidian player we can all agree”………

    I couldn’t cos I had no idea what it meant 😳

  14. 14
    ksn says:

    Thanks Bt8 for a fast, fun and accurate report on what finally turned out to be a good match for us. We were the better team and more or less dominated them. If not for our carelessness, which has become a disease over the last few weeks, we should have won by four or five goals without reply. We were lucky that Olympiakos took only one of three times we gave the ball away near our 18 yard box and it will be interesting to see how Arteta fixes this problem which arises from our style of playing out from the back.

    We had three very good goals from non regular contributors. Thunderbolts from Odegaard (his first goal for the club) and Elneny and a bullet header from Gabriel ensured that we go into the return leg comfortably placed. We should get into the next round comfortably if we don’t fuck it up but with Xhaka, Luiz, Ceballos and to some extant Leno turning out to be repeat offenders we can never rule out that possibility.

    Next Sunday will be another difficult watch but will show us whether we are really improving under Arteta.

  15. 15
    TTG says:

    What it means is that we are the poshest Arsenal blog in the Goonerverse ! It’s a more elegant word ( much) than plodder but I think that’s what Dr. F meant !

  16. 16
    Doctor Faustus says:

    TTG@15 — thanks! Yes, that’s exactly what I meant. 🙂

    Come on Trev, you are just making fun of me…I bet you can come up with 15 different pun on quotidian. 🙂

  17. 17
    TTG says:

    For the technologically knowledgeable ( that would be me then ) Arsenal are showing their U23 game with Blackburn on their Twitch channel tonight . You can download Twitch from the App Store . Eddie Nketiah is likely to be starting for us .

  18. 18
    bt8 says:

    Olympiacos have apparently turned to an Eastern Orthodox miracle worker to get them out of this jam. Their website pictures it here: https://www.olympiacos.org/2020/12/18/sto-pleyro-tis-ieras-mitropolis-peiraios/, describing it thus: Στο πλευρό της Ιεράς Μητρόπολης Πειραιώς
    Κοινωνική ευαισθησία και προσφορά από τον Ολυμπιακό λίγο πριν από τις Άγιες μέρες των Χριστουγέννων.

    Reverse hex preparations anyone?

  19. 19
    bt8 says:

    By the way, it’s Greek to me. 😉

  20. 20
  21. 21
    bt8 says:

    Azeez free kick drew a finger to save before my screen froze with 12 minutes gone by. Neither side standing clearly above the other, but apparently the Blackburn U-23s are second in the league. Maybe more of their players should be in the first team? Thanks for the Twitching tip, TTG.

  22. 22
    bt8 says:

    Technowledgeably tiny gooner?

  23. 23
    bt8 says:

    As the sun slowly sinks over the yardarm I’d better scoot my chair back a few inches

  24. 24
    bt8 says:

    Azeez drew a finger tip save on that free kick. Didn’t mean to misrepresent any finger actions there. Is the game still on?

  25. 25
    bt8 says:

    The crocuses should be up any day now, this afternoon even the way the sun is shining.

  26. 26
    bt8 says:

    29 minutes gone, Arsenal find themselves a goal down despite enjoying the majority of possession, and then give it away again almost conceding a second…

    A bit like the first team it seems

  27. 27
    bt8 says:

    2-0 now though.

  28. 28
    bt8 says:

    Second time frozen on my webcast. If the score had been 2-0 in our favour maybe I would download the Twitch app but monitoring the crocuses may take precedence

  29. 29
    Doctor Faustus says:

    I am sure Mikel will like such compliments 😂


  30. 30
    TTG says:

    I watched a lot of the first half of the U23s and some of the second half .
    You can read too much into reserve team football. Our centre backs were pathetic today but we have Saliba, Ballard, Clarke , McGuinness and Mavrapanos out on loan and five good CBs at the club . We’ve just got rid of Mustafi and Sokratis- ( and they said George Graham collected centre backs!) The full backs were naive and the left-back is more right footed than Ødegaard is left-footed. We played two strikers wide and two wingers in midfield and impressed by Ceballos and Xhaka and looking to emulate them Nelson gave the ball away carelessly for the second goal . Azeez looks superb on the ball but is very slight and made a lot of wrong decisions .More importantly Blackburn looked a much better-drilled team . Steve Bould I expected much better !
    So don’t go thinking there is a golden generation at the club ,a Youth Cup in the offing and a conveyor belt laden with young stars . Cirjan, Patino and Flores might be special but if we are to get great full-backs and defenders we will need to find them with other clubs on this evidence .

  31. 31
    bt8 says:

    Blogs: “I don’t really want to talk too much about their goal because it was just so stupid. If it was revealed tomorrow that we’d hired a Director of Stupidity who puts the players through their paces every day, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid.”
    About right.

  32. 32
    Osakamatt says:

    An excellent report thanks bt8.
    I mostly agree with all your
    conclusions though I was probably
    more 50/50 on Gabriel’s cracking
    header. Seen those disallowed
    before for the arm contact but
    fortunately it counted and changed
    the game. Onward to the spuddies
    we go in better heart. With Pepe also
    being more productive recently our
    wide options are looking better, three
    good goals not scored by Auba, happy
    days for our balance and Auba is just
    saving his for this weekend 🤞

  33. 33
    Osakamatt says:

    @30 and bt8
    bt8,TTG, thanks for the news of the
    U23s. Apart from giving away the
    2nd goal how did Nelson do in the
    centre? Just curious as it’s difficult
    to see a way into the side for him
    at the moment in his preferred wide

  34. 34
    ksn says:

    Mourinho says that he doesn’t look at teams which are below them in the table. I hope we stuff them this Sunday and prick his ego a bit.

  35. 35
    TTG says:

    Nelson improved in the second half but he had a lot to improve on. He isn’t suited to playing in the middle in my opinion, he doesn’t have the physicality or discipline and his main contributions were decent runs with the ball which largely came to nothing . He was directly responsible for their second goal , losing the ball on the edge of the area to a player who went on to score . I don’t see him having a long-term future at Arsenal with the talent we have out wide and he isn’t what we need in midfield . Sadly this may be because he’s stagnated in the reserves but injuries haven’t helped.
    Compared with Azeez he is some way behind in my view

  36. 36
    Osakamatt says:

    thanks TTG,
    Not a very happy report!
    Hope you’re wrong of course
    but fear you’re right. He’s
    fallen quite a way down the
    order and it may be better for
    him to find first team football

  37. 37
    bt8 says:

    Dr. F and ksn. Some managers do a bit of trash talking at times. Other managers are just trash. No names of course.

  38. 38
    Pangloss says:


  39. 39

    […] first leg of this tie was just such a schizoid performance, superbly summarised by bt8 (https://www.goonerholicsforever.com/?p=2541). Leno’s gift via Ceballos of an early second half equaliser turned a match that should have been […]