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Like a drunken sailor out all night before the morning when his ship is to sail, Arsenal somehow still managed to stumble through the alleyways in the port and dragged themselves over the gangplank to land successfully onboard in the quarter finals of the Europa League just when the captain had made up his mind to depart without them.

In the post-match interview, our no-nonsense goalkeeper summarized the performance perfectly: “We won’t win anything playing like that”.

It didn’t have to be like that. We started the second leg against Olympiacos at home, with a healthy 3-1 advantage thanks to three excellent goals by Ødegaard, Gabriel and Elneny away at Piraeus. Last Sunday we had comprehensively outplayed and beaten the Spuds 2-1 – however, in the light of yesterday’s thumping at the hand of the Croatian champions maybe we should really not pay much significance to that result? (Insert your choice of emoji here.) All we needed to do was play with composure and commitment, without either panic or complacency, and let our overall technical superiority count.

But none of that happened. Except for the first 20-25 minutes, we played with a combination of technical mistakes, half-hearted challenges, lack of organization, goalmouth profligacy, and, eventually, shivers of panic – a potent cocktail of characteristics that if captured in a chilled martini glass can be perfectly named an “Arsenal”. A few drinks of such a tremor-inducing cocktail was probably what our sailor had imbibed as he stumbled back on to his ship. So, you may ask, now as confused as David Luiz had looked yesterday: is Arsenal the drink or the drinker in this attempt at a painfully convoluted metaphor? Both, my dear friends, both. Arsenal drank a lot of Arsenals last night.

Mikel’s team selection indicated a willingness to rotate without sacrificing quality, and betrayed no obvious signs of conservatism maybe except for Dani Ceballos in the number 10 role which has lately been graced by the iron fist in a velvet glove sophistication of first Emile Smith-Rowe and then Martin Ødegaard.  Captain Aubameyang returned to the team after successfully scoring one over the North London traffic jam. Nicolas Pépé took the place of Bukayo Saka who was recovering after a never-ending series of manhandling by opposition defenders throughout the season finally took its toll.


Bellerin – Luiz – Gabriel – Tierney

Elneny – Xhaka

Pépé – Ceballos – ESR


We started brightly enough with Dani, ESR and Pépé pressing well from the front. Around 5th minute ESR’s shot bounced back against Sokratis onto Emile and then the subsequent collision left both clutching their heads. Thankfully neither was injured.  Most of our early attacking was typically left side biased but Olympiacos had well prepared for the Tierney-ESR combo and they weren’t having as much of a joy as in the weekend. Tierney earned a free-kick that Dani wasted with a poor delivery into the box. Luiz sent one long floating pass down the right that Pépé after controlling superbly couldn’t beat his defender and earned a corner. Around the 19th minute we almost scored – from a breezy counter attack Ceballos found Pépé with both Sokratis and the Sa, the Olympiaco goalkeeper, converging on the ball. Pépé’s goal-bound attempt deflected off the feet of Papa to squeeze agonizingly past the empty net. He probably should have tried to pass it to Aubameyang who had an empty net in front.

Just a minute later we almost conceded in a familiar fashion. A straight kick from Sa cleared above our high but static defensive line and El-Arabi (who has now made a bit of habit of scoring against us) saw his low rasping drive saved brilliantly by Leno’s outstretched legs.

Around 25th minute we should really have scored. Dani Ceballos – who had a very mixed game combining some good forward passing with many a dangerous lapse of concentration in possession – found Auba in a central position with a perfectly timed and weighted pass. Out captain’s movement was sharp, his body shape was precise, and he only had the goalkeeper to beat with enough time to choose the direction and height of the shot. He shot straight and high.

That was probably the best we played in the match. After that Olympiacos started to dominate more and more, we started losing all the 50-50 challenges in the midfield and our passing – under pressure but even without being pressed – became increasingly erratic. However, just before the first half ended ESR and Dani combined briskly down the left and ESR’s curling effort lacked the power to beat the goalkeeper who gathered the shot comfortably.

The second half started in a similar vein. Luiz missed a headed clearance from which Olympiacos shot wide. Tierney showed his defensive qualities in clearing a cross. We started dropping back deeper and deeper and Xhaka and Elneny lost any semblance of control in the midfield. While in an advanced attacking position Dani lost possession of the ball – not for the first time – from which Olympiacos came swarming in towards our defense down our right. Neither Bellerin nor Pépé could catch up with the speed of their counter-counter-attack nor did Elneny provide any covering for our right flank. Luiz got his positioning all wrong while facing El-Arabi and his shot deflected off David into Arsenal goal.

Arsenal 0 – Olympiacos 1  (El-Arabi 51’)

Sensing the danger of the tie slipping away Mike rang in the changes. Elneny and Ceballos, both hugely unimpressive, were replaced by Partey and Ødegaard. These atypical early dual substitution was a clear indication how worried Mikel must have felt at that time, just like the rest of us.

Ødegaard improved our control over the game and combined well with Pépé to create a half-chance for Ødegaard around 76th minute from which Martin shot high. Before that, around 60th minute Tierney surged forward and provided a perfect cut-back across their penalty box that Pépé met with an excellent goalbound effort which unfortunately stuck ESR on the way in.

Olympiacos still needed two goals, and sensing the increasing doubts and lack of concentration in our game they poured forward with self-belief. From one such Olympiacos attack we sprung a perfect counter-attack when Xhaka fed Ødegaard who passed it on to the path of Aubameyang who kept himself onside and after beating the defenders easily on his pace found himself one-on-one against Sa, the Olympiacos goalkeeper. Auba somehow managed not to finish the move, as his left footed dink after beating Sa spun harmlessly away from the goal. This was on the 81st minute and there were still ten plus minutes left for Olympiacos to make us pay for that mistake. Just like they did last year.

Thankfully, history didn’t repeat itself. A sub-par Bellerin was replaced by Chambers, and Martinelli came on for an exhausted Emile; it was nice to finally see Gabi back playing. Arsène Wenger once famously said about Tomáš Rosický that “if you love football you must love Rosický”. Not comparing Martinelli the footballer to super TR7 in any way, but I feel the same about him: the kind of intensity and positivity with which Martinelli behaves on the field should bring pure joy to anyone who loves football.

His pressing earned him an early elbow on the face. The offender rightly saw a yellow, and then another one for expressing his displeasure, to reduce Olympiacos to ten men. It is the kind of red card generally Arsenal players are awarded.

Martinelli continued to press well, then made a great run down the left and set Auba up with a perfect cross. Auba’s sensational flicked finish was saved equally sensationally by Sa. We survived the last few minutes without any scare as the entire team defended well enough as a collective towards the end, Ødegaard keeping a cool head in possession.

The match ended with us winning 3-2 on aggregate, and the record of never winning both the home and away legs against Olympiacos kept intact.

We will have to play much better – and score from our chances – if we are to harbor any serious hope of winning the Europa league.

29 Drinks to “Stumbling into the Quarters”

  1. 1
    bt8 says:

    Drink! Not sure what to call it though. Thanks for your well-measured report, Faustus. In truth I missed the game because the TUDN network put our game on their super premium channel when I was expecting the opposite so I watched their free service that switched back and forth among the four matches, so only got a vague sense of how we were playing. I will watch the recorded match tonight, to compare my impressions with all of yours but it should be a good deal more relaxing than watching as it happened and the possibility of elimination seemed to linger. Two positives to mention: Zagreb (definitely) and Prague (should be unless we do another Arsenal).

  2. 2
    TTG says:

    Unless you have nothing better to do a visit to the dentist, colonic irrigation or a visit to the chiropodist would all be a better and more enjoyable use of your time than watching that game last night . All one can say is that we’ve reached the quarter finals and we move on.
    This is a very fair and insightful report by Dr.F which conveys the frustration of the evening. The only big conclusion I would draw is that in the next window we must reconstruct our midfield . I won’t mention you know who but we can send Ceballos back to Madrid, he makes far too many mistakes and Partey has to considerably up his game . He is clearly hugely talented but leavens moments of quality with errors of control and concentration and physically he struggles with the pace of our play .
    Let’s hope it is onwards and upwards and we can be thankful that another North London side garnered most of the attention last night

  3. 3
    TTG says:

    Congrats to the ladies who beat Man U 2-0 despite playing with ten men for a third of the game . That gives them a good chance of overhauling United and gaining a Champions League place next season

  4. 4
    BtM says:

    Auba and Laca have had sufficient chances during the course of this season to be competing with each other for two golden boots each. The fact that neither has been able to exceed my expectations of my Aunt Fanny as a striker at any stage of the competition goes a long way to explaining why Arsenal sit tenth in the League and not, at least, second.

    Last night Auba gave another remarkable interpretation of the art of not scoring in situations where Pukki of the Championship would have sundered the netting thrice. Remarkable.

    Never mind. The Gunners are into the next round and the thrills and spills of even more quarter-final misses beckons. All of that and Odegaard is most definitely a keeper.

  5. 5
    Silly Second Yella says:

    Trpisovsky (?)

    Emery (!!!)

    Solskjaer (!?)

  6. 6
    North Bank Ned says:

    You wrung as much positivity out of that game as it was reasonable to do, Dr F.

    The ship didn’t sink, despite our best efforts, and we sail on, several sheets to the wind, no doubt.

  7. 7
    bathgooner says:

    A fair and balanced report of a 90 minute period that I wasted watching a match that I would prefer to forget. As BtM observes we seem to have a couple of real wasters up front. That has to be sorted in the summer along with persuading Real Madrid to part with Ødegaard.

  8. 8
    Osakamatt says:

    Thanks Dr F, as you say we were
    alarmingly wasteful.
    On to Wham we go.

  9. 9
    Osakamatt says:

    Leno looked unusually angry
    during the game at one point.
    berating some defensive blunder.
    I’ve no problem with him handing
    out the odd bollocking to some
    of our players

  10. 10
    bt8 says:

    Real Madrid are watching every action taken by Odegaard (unfortunately), and by Ceballos (who has certainly regressed this season and especially the last few weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them offer us only one of the two for next season, and think I know which one.

  11. 11
    ecg says:

    This is not to excuse all of the seemingly easy misses that our two strikers have had this year, but statistically Laca is one of the best at converting shots in the Premier League at 28 percent while Auba is at 18 percent. Most of the top strikers are in the 18 to 21 percent with only Son converting at a significantly higher rate (25 percent). Salah is at 20 percent, Fernandes is at 18 percent, and Kane is at only 16 percent. Pukki in the Championship is at 20 percent. The best strikers in Europe for conversion rate are Lew and Haal at 30 percent.

    The most significant number is the lack of shots. Laca and Auba combined have 86 shots in the league, one less than Salah.

  12. 12
    North Bank Ned says:

    I see that Joao Virginia, formerly of this parish, is set for a start for Everton against City in the FA Cup tomorrow, with Pickford and his backup out injured.

    bt8@10: I mentioned a few drinks back that Real Madrid has been talking up Ødegaard’s future at the club, and that they see his time with us as a way for him to play himself back to match fitness after injury. It looks like tough sledging to convince RM to let us have him for another season. I agree with you that Dani has regressed and any offer would probably entice RM to sell.

  13. 13
    ClockEndRider says:

    Morning All,
    Lovely write up Dr F.
    Interesting video on the .com this morning. Training video of small sided training match. What I found most interesting was the repetition from Arteta of the word “forward” during the build up to each attack. He really was most insistent. Let’s hope this informs the approach on Sunday.

  14. 14
    bathgooner says:

    That’s useful perspective ecg @11. Wasters was perhaps too strongly pejorative a term for our two senior strikers and was informed more by frustration at their recent outings than by the real situation. Their low output (or should it be input?) this season has been due to a paucity of chance creation for them in the first half-season and profligacy since December. Ideally we want them to finish more chances. In reality we must live with that frustration. I’m guessing we won’t spring a surprise all round by signing Haaland.

    It reminds me of a story about the 60’s and 70’s Scottish striker George MacLean who peaked at Rangers but soon went to smaller clubs. At Falkirk his coach told him, “George, if you scored all those chances you miss, you’d be better than Pele!” George responded, “Aye, but I wouldn’t be playing for Falkirk, would I?”

  15. 15
    Countryman100 says:

    A good, calm review Dr F. I cannot share the angst and bitter tears about this performance because we won the tie. I never thought we were not going to win the tie. I agree with all the points about individual performances and Arteta and Leno clearly share that view. Well they have a game tomorrow against West Ham to prove that. We created lots of chances. Yes we missed them all, but that happens.

    I’m also interested that there was not a mention of Sp*rs, unlike Arseblog who devoted 50% of his match report to gloating at their circumstances. I have been roundly abused (but politely) for focusing on them rather than us. All I can say is that their demise and its possible consequences have given me huge pleasure and continues to do so (see two pieces in the Times today about the Mourhino and Kane contractual situations).

    I do hope I am not taking his name in vain, but I reckon up there in heaven St Peter is wondering why Dave keeps chuckling. The answer is the Middlesex marsh dwellers.

  16. 16
    North Bank Ned says:

    bath@14: Jimmy Greaves once said that if he’d missed all the goals that he’d scored but scored all the goals that he’d missed, then he would have scored a hell of a lot more goals than he scored.

  17. 17
    North Bank Ned says:

    I read that it will cost Levy £25 million go sack Mourinho. I wonder if the first thing the Portuguese negotiates in every contract he signs is the redundancy clause.

  18. 18
    Countryman100 says:

    Ned. The Times estimated the pay off as £25-£40m depending on what would be included. They also said he would be paid it monthly, not as a lump sum, like Pochetino, with the monthly payments ceasing if he became manager of a new club.

  19. 19
    TTG says:

    It’s very difficult at this stage to speculate on whether we can sign Odegaard. I’ve heard we are trying to extend his loan through next season but there are so many variables that affect the decision . Will Zidane be in place next season or when the decision is made ? Who are Real’s transfer targets ? Will they need a cash injection or look to reduce the wage bill! If Zidane leaves who will take over ? Will he rate Odegaard or might he want to retain Isco …or even bring back Ceballos ? Real and Barcelona are soap operas and slightly tarnished brands at the moment . There is talk about Ronaldo returning from Juventus – If that happens it will be expensive …very .
    I have been increasingly impressed with Ødegaard. He was excellent against S***s and changed the game on Thursday .Ceballos on the other hand has regressed this season. Gone was the mobile, creative and assured player we saw at the end of last season, replaced by an error-prone , tentative lad who always look to have a serious mistake in him .Defensively he’s not secure and he’s not creative enough to be a 10. Arteta likes a left-footed midfielder in the pivot. Could Ødegaard play there as he would give the same angles that Xhaka gives you with much more mobility ?
    Let’s hope we can acquire him. The relationship between the clubs is said to be good

  20. 20
    TTG says:

    Having moaned about how poor the u 23s were last week in the loss against Blackburn we won 4-1 away at Ewood Park in the FA Youth Cup today. Azeez was apparently superb

  21. 21
  22. 22
    Countryman100 says:

    Absolute banger!

  23. 23
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    I want to see Azeez in the first team setup next year, unless we find him a really good loan where he plays a lot of games. The lad is too good for youth football. Another Cesc. I’ve been saying for a while I am very excited about him. And our midfield has plenty of room for improvement. I’d rather see him get cup minutes than Xhaka, Ceballos or Elneny.

  24. 24
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    TTG @21.

    It is a great strike. I hear he has been doing shooting practice with Elneny. 😉

  25. 25
    TTG says:

    I’m with you . Even in a badly beaten team last week his quality shone through and his touch esp his first touch is terrific. I saw Fabregas’s first game at Highbury and you could see from his first couple of touches that he was a natural. Azeez creates the same impression and as you can see from the clip he does like to have a bang from distance which is something we don’t have at the moment , in fact our lack of goals from midfield is one of the big problems in our current team Xhaka has a great shot but doesn’t get forward and Partey’s finishing is very disappointing so far . We need to see what he can do. ESR has transformed the team. Azeez could do the same

  26. 26
    bt8 says:

    Belter and blaster by Azeez, not just banger only. Transfermarkt says his contract expires June 30 so it was a timely one too.

  27. 27
    bathgooner says:

    That’s a proper belter from Azeez @21. The boy looks the business.

  28. 28
    Osakamatt says:

    thanks for the link @21 TTG
    😃 cracking goal. if his contract
    is up in June perhaps we should
    consider another one 😂😂

  29. 29
    scruzgooner says: