Arsenal vs Olympiacos result: Five things we learned as the Gunners are knocked out of the Europa League

A lack of concentration in both penalty boxes cost the Gunners

Mikel Arteta on Xhaka's decision to stay at Arsenal

Arsenal were knocked out of the Europa League in dramatic circumstances, losing on away goals to Olympiacos.

Mikel Arteta named a strong team to see the job through and the majority of possession went Arsenal’s way, but clear sights of goal were few and far between with Alexandre Lacazette’s strike rightly ruled out for a clear offside in the build-up.

After the break, the Gunners seemed unable to click into top gear and they were shocked soon after the restart by Pape Abou Cisse heading home a corner, completely unmarked just six yards out.

That goal took the game to extra time and it took a spectacular Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang overhead kick, just six minutes before penalties, to give the Gunners belief – but Youssef El-Arabi had the final word in the 119th minute to seal a 2-1 win for the Greek team and a 2-2 aggregate scoreline.

Here are five things we learned from the round of 32 second leg at the Emirates.

1. Arteta sees Europe as the route back to the top

Some sides have opted to rotate, rest and reserve their way through the Europa League, so it was something of a statement of intent from the boss to go full-strength here.

Gunners fans have been enjoying a recent revival, at least in terms of not being beaten, and would have been hopeful of continuing that streak against Olympiacos.

With the Europa League offering a Champions League spot for the winners – as well as a trophy of course – it’s little wonder Arteta saw this as an ideal shortcut back to the top.

Arsenal are too far off the pace in the Premier League to think about a top-four finish, and for financial as well as sporting reasons, the north London side need to take any opportunity they get to accelerate their regeneration.

But some things simply can’t be put on fast-forward; if this was Arsenal’s best XI, it shows how far there is still to go.

2. The presence of Pepe

Part of that strong lineup was having all four big-name attackers starting: Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Lacazette.

Their best early moment of combination play came when Pepe was put through and raced toward the penalty area, only to be felled on the edge. His shot from the resulting free-kick was somewhat less impressive.

However, it was undoubtedly Pepe who grew into the game with the biggest influence, with his second-half performance the most inventive and exciting of anyone in a red shirt.

A twisting, turning dribble inside the area almost led to a great chance, before he fired in the first real decent shot of the night for Arteta’s team which forced the ‘keeper into a great save.

3. Critical moments

Arteta might have improved much, but there’s still a long way to go with this Arsenal team.

Olympiacos had barely threatened before they scored, but the ease with which Cisse wandered into a dangerous area and nodded home, unmarked and without having to even jump, was absurd.

The Gunners knew a clean sheet would see them through regardless of performance levels, but concentration as much as anything else denied them that.

It comes on the heels of conceding in the first minute and the last minute of the half against Everton, while in January late goals were conceded against both Bournemouth and Sheffield United. The bad habit of conceding at key moments was underlined with Arabi’s late, late winner.

4. Lacking confidence or simply not clinical?

Aubameyang missed a huge chance for Arsenal

Arsenal, despite dominating possession, really struggled to break down their Greek opponents.

There were formation changes, positional switches, four substitutions and the aforementioned strong starting XI, but no matter what Arteta’s approach, his players lacked the cutting edge required for a long, long time.

It took 76 minutes for the Gunners to have their first shot on target and they managed just four across the full 120 – indicative of their wayward finishing and perhaps a real lack of confidence in some.

Lacazette was perhaps the biggest culprit in this regard, failing to control or turn in time when well-placed in the box and skewing off target when he did get an effort away.

Just as it seemed Aubameyang had shown how to do it with a world-class finish, the exact same man turned ultimate culprit, missing a 122nd-minute finish from right in front of goal to send Arsenal through.

5. Greek tragedy

They thought they’d done it; they thought they had seen it through.

Arsenal cleared a last-minute corner, but not far enough. The defence pushed up, but not all of them – Sokratis and David Luiz were deeper than the rest and, from a brilliant cross, El-Arabi poked home the winner.

After an away-leg victory, all the Gunners needed to do was avoid defeat at home. They had gone 10 in a row without a loss before this one, including games against Everton, Man United and Chelsea, but Olympiacos, who weren’t even champions in Greece last season, foiled them.

The rest of 2019/20 will now become an exercise in future-proofing for Arteta and his coaching team, looking to those who can improve next year to at least secure a Europa League berth once more. Three points is the gap to sixth, which now has to be a minimum target.

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