Santos adds to Arsenal's defensive crisis
Olympiakos 3 Arsenal 1
Wednesday 07 December 2011
Thank goodness it didn't matter. Arsène Wenger's plan to deploy an experienced defence and provide a platform for his youngsters to express themselves backfired in alarming fashion as Arsenal surrendered their unbeaten record in Champions League Group F.
The Gunners' insipid performance only heightened the value of securing top spot prior to arriving in Greece, as all but two of the starting line-up that thrashed Wigan 4-0 in the league on Saturday were able to rest up back home.
But what they presumably watched on television was uncomfortable viewing. The second-string wilted badly under pressure from an Olympiakos side that secured victory courtesy of goals from Rafik Djebbour, David Fuster and François Modesto but not qualification after Marseilles' last-gasp win.
All three Olympiakos goals were gifts and Wenger was given an exacting reminder of first-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny's importance and, if one were needed, that Sébastien Squillaci is not of the requisite quality to perform at this level.
Injury was added to insult as Szczesny's understudy Lukasz Fabianski was carried off on a stretcher with a bad gash on his left knee before full-back Andre Santos limped out early in the second half with a sprained right ankle. "Fabianski felt a deep cut on the knee and Santos suffered a bad ankle injury," said Wenger. "He looks like he will be out for a while. We have [Kieran] Gibbs coming back in two to three weeks. Hopefully, Santos will not be too long but for Saturday against Everton, he looks to be short. We have as well [Thomas] Vermaelen who can play in his position [at left-back]. I am annoyed because we lost the game. It's difficult to single out [individuals] – I feel offensively and defensively we were not convincing tonight. You could feel there was more at stake for Olympiakos than us. I think that made us insecure defensively."
In an attempt to avoid such apprehension, the Frenchman fielded a significantly stronger side than Arsenal's last visit here in 2009 – an equally inconsequential final group game they lost 1-0 – with Vermaelen and Santos bolstering a rearguard that also contained Squillaci, Johan Djourou and Fabianski.
It did not work. In the 16th minute, Squillaci tried to cut out Fuster's pass only to stab the ball into an unfortunate Djourou, prompting a ricochet into the path of Djebbour who rounded Fabianski to score.
The Poland international was then forced off following a collision with Djebbour to bring Vito Mannone into the fray – his last appearance came on loan at Hull with the concession of four goals at Middlesbrough in April.
The Italian's contribution here was similarly porous as calamity continued. After 36 minutes, Mannone cleared with his head as the impressive Kevin Mirallas closed in only for Fuster to return the ball goalwards.
In mitigation, Mannone must have thought he was outside his area and opted not to meet the ball with his hands but his left foot. He made the deftest of contact and not enough to prevent the hosts doubling their lead.
Mannone allowed Modesto a free header after the interval before Arsenal responded. Santos's replacement, Ignasi Miquel, and Marouane Chamakh combined for Yossi Benayoun to fire a fine volleyed riposte.
Mannone erred again but further damage only came a minute from time as Modesto turned the ball home after Olof Mellberg had hit the post.
Man of the match Mirallas.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee A U Mallenco (Spain).
Marseilles roar back to qualify
Marseilles pulled off a dramatic comeback to reach the knockout stages by winning 3-2 at Borussia Dortmund after being 2-0 down.
Knowing that only a victory was good enough if Olympiakos beat Arsenal, Didier Deschamps' side were two down by the 32nd minute, Poland midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski and Mats Hummels with a penalty putting the Germans in command.
However, Loïc Rémy pulled one back on the stroke of half-time and frantic Marseilles pressure paid off with five minutes to go. Andre Ayew equalised in the 85th minute and two minutes later Mathieu Valbuena got the winner that took them through.
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