Lukas Podolski's opportunism for Arsenal eases burden for Steve Bould
Arsenal 3 Olympiakos 1
Not every European night can be a vintage occasion, and not every win is a classic but when you have a goalscorer like Lukas Podolski with the happy knack of being in the right place at the right time, there remains an escape route.
In recent years, the man to salvage an average Arsenal performance in the Champions League with a decisive goal would surely have been the now-departed Robin van Persie. Last night it was Podolski and while Arsenal are still a long way from finding a first-choice centre-forward, let alone a man who can fill Van Persie's boots, this was still a satisfactory outcome for Arsène Wenger.
The Arsenal manager was serving the second game of his three-match Uefa touchline ban and spent half-time in the discreetly expensive Diamond Club while his assistant Steve Bould took the responsibility for shaking the players out of their first-half torpor. In the end Arsenal ground out a victory against the spirited, if limited, Greek champions Olympiakos, whose hard-running in the first half waned as the game reached its final stages.
For that Arsenal owed much to the marvellous Santi Cazorla and the hard-working Gervinho, but also to the opportunism of Podolski to score the goal that made the difference before the substitute Aaron Ramsey broke away to score a third. Two victories from two games sets them up nicely for the visit of Schalke on 24 October where victory will all but seal their progress from Group B.
It was Gervinho who led the line stoically for much of the match, to be replaced with 11 minutes remaining by Olivier Giroud, the summer signing, who, in an ideal world, would inherit Van Persie's role in the team. Giroud is clearly not at that level yet and while there are goals from the likes of Podolski that loss will not be felt too keenly in the Champions League – but at some point a successor will have to stake a claim to the leading role.
Giroud, who has just one Arsenal goal in the League Cup to his name so far, was unlucky to have a goal-bound shot blocked in the final few minutes. At that point, before Ramsey scored the third, Arsenal were well in control but there were moments in the first half when they looked bereft of ideas, even when they took the lead through Gervinho
Arsenal had made heavy-weather of it and Wenger, sitting in the directors' box between Dick Law, his unofficial director of football, and Ivan Gazidis, the chief executive, looked even more morose than usual.
For the first half, Arsenal were pressed high up the pitch by a committed Greek team, albeit one lacking the quality of player to threaten the home side consistently. This Arsenal outfit should, however, have had enough pace to overcome it. If anything, Wenger's side were the cause of their own problems, especially in defence.
Later, Bould admitted that the defence had struggled before the break. "Down to me isn't it?" he said. "We will look at it and try to correct it. They made it difficult, made it really hard. We knew they were very good technically. I thought we improved.
"It was tough, they made it really tough defending well. We started off not bad and then looked a bit nervous. I think the result from weekend [the defeat against Chelsea] drained us. We lost a bit of confidence.'"
Having wobbled against Chelsea on Saturday, Laurent Koscielny was booked for a clumsy foul on the Portuguese attacker Paulo Machado in the first half. The French defender and Thomas Vermaelen both attacked a cross from Giannis Maniatis on 35 minutes, missed it, and Machado, stealing in behind, should have done better with his chance.
Three minutes from the break, Arsenal scored. Podolski and Cazorla exchanged passes and the former hit a cross that fell to Mikel Arteta who lost the ball in a challenge. It fell kindly for Gervinho who had the time to swivel and hit his shot beyond the reach of Balazs Megyeri in the Olympiakos goal.
It looked like Arsenal had been given a convenient escape but they were stung just minutes later. A cross from Leandro Greco on the left wing was met superbly by the centre-forward Kosta Mitroglou who flicked a header beyond Vito Mannone. The less said about the attempts of Vermaelen to get to the ball before him, the better.
Arsenal were without Per Mertesacker, who was suffering from a virus. Bould said he hoped the German would be back for the trip to West Ham on Saturday. They came back out a much better side for the second half with Gervinho and Cazorla at the heart of the best that their side created, including the second goal scored by Podolski.
Before then, Cazorla inexplicably put a shot wide when it was cut back to him by Gervinho. On 56 minutes, the striker had two chances to cross a ball from the left when his first attempt was blocked. His second found Podolski who moved the ball away from goal with his first touch and then swivelled neatly to strike a left-footed shot through the legs of Megyeri.
There was also an impressive performance from Kieran Gibbs who was button-holed after the game by Roy Hodgson for a long chat. The England manager, who names his squad today for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers, already has two excellent left-backs but cannot fail to have been impressed by Gibbs.
With Theo Walcott and Giroud on by the end, Arsenal were well in control and Ramsey took the third goal well, running clear onto a flick from Giroud to chip the ball over Megyeri. There will be more difficult nights than this one by which time, Arsenal will need to have found an established centre-forward.
Man of the match Cazorla.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee S O Moen (Nor).
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