Late Arshavin strike seals Arsenal win
Arsenal 2 Olympiacos 0
Tuesday 29 September 2009
Arsene Wenger continued the quest for the one thing missing from his Arsenal CV as the Gunners maintained their 100% record in Champions League Group H with a 2-0 win over Olympiacos at Emirates Stadium.
The French coach will later this week become the longest-serving manager in the history of Arsenal, whom he openly admits were a "bit crazy" to take the gamble on his appointment some 13 seasons ago.
Time has, of course, since proved that judgement more than sound - but the burning desire to bring more success to Emirates Stadium remains as strong as ever for Wenger and his young side.
The Greek champions, now managed by Brazil legend Zico, had goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis to thank for preventing Arsenal chalking up a big score in a one-sided contest.
However, they were eventually undone with 12 minutes to go when substitute Eduardo set up Robin van Persie before Andrey Arshavin made sure of the win when he netted a cheeky backheel, which had more than a hint of offside.
Arsenal had opened their European campaign away to Standard Liege - where they trailed 2-0 inside five minutes before battling back to a morale-boosting victory.
The Gunners, though, showed no signs of any such repeat tonight as Olympiacos were immediately pushed onto the defensive.
Full-back Gael Clichy, who came through the Arsenal youth ranks under the watchful eye of Wenger, broke down the left and cut the ball across for Arshavin, whose sidefoot shot was gathered by Nikopolidis in a sign of things to come for the Greek keeper.
On 16 minutes, captain Cesc Fabregas rattled the crossbar from 18 yards, with Nikopolidis then producing a fine reaction save to keep out Thomas Rosicky's fierce angled drive.
Olympiacos sat deep and Arshavin tested Nikopolidis again before William Gallas almost connected with Van Persie's corner.
Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone - outstanding in the 1-0 Barclays Premier League win over Fulham on Saturday - finally had something to do after 34 minutes when he comfortably collected a header from Vassilis Torosidis.
Olympiacos skipper Nikopolidis was having a busy night, as he had to touch behind a deep, inswinging free-kick from Fabregas.
Abou Diaby, eight yards out, headed wide following the corner.
Arsenal were almost made to pay for not taking their chances at the start of the second half when former Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg headed a corner down towards the near post - which Mannone parried.
From the quick counter-attack, Van Persie forced Nikopolidis to make another good save, before picking up a yellow card when he clattered into defender Michal Zewlakow chasing the loose ball.
As the hour mark passed, Arsenal maintained their pressure.
Centre-back Thomas Vermaelen - the top scorer so far with four goals - just failed to direct his far-post header on target following Van Persie's deep free-kick.
Wenger made a change with 24 minutes left when he introduced Eduardo - free to play after UEFA's two-match diving ban was overturned on appeal - for Rosicky.
Olympiacos continued to sit back and invite pressure, but all too often Arsenal's final delivery was poor, much to the frustration of the Emirates Stadium faithful.
Arshavin turned quickly to release Van Persie into the left side of the penalty area.
His angled drive was blocked by Nikopolidis but Gallas could not get the rebound out from under his feet, as the keeper once again denied Arsenal, although the assistant's flag was raised anyway.
Nikopolidis was inspired as he saved at full stretch from Diaby, before the midfielder was replaced by Carlos Vela - a move to inject some pace into the attack.
The goal finally came on 78 minutes, when Eduardo darted into the box to collect Fabregas' pass, before cutting the ball back to Van Persie, who this time swept it into the net.
Arshavin made sure of the result when he backheeled in Fabregas' low centre, despite looking suspiciously offside.
While there is still much work to do before this side can genuinely claim to live with those built around Tony Adams, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, Wenger's young Gunners continue to give the wise old manager reason to be positive for the future.
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