Greek tragedy for Arsenal as Gunners crash again
ATHENS (AFP) –
Arsenal’s dispiriting season took a turn for the worse on Tuesday as the Gunners crashed to a 2-1 defeat at Olympiakos that ended their hopes of finishing top of Champions League Group B.
Arsene Wenger’s side desperately needed a victory in Athens to ease the sense of crisis enveloping the north London club after their worst start to a Premier League campaign in the Frenchman’s 16-year reign.
But instead the Gunners squandered the lead secured by Tomas Rosicky as second half goals from Giannis Maniatis and then Kostas Mitroglou meant Arsenal had to settle for second place in the group behind Schalke.
Although Arsenal had already qualified for the last 16, this was a missed opportunity for Wenger’s men as Schalke’s draw at Montpellier meant a victory would have given the Gunners top spot and potentially an easier draw in the knockout stages.
It was the last thing Wenger needed after being subjected to a torrent of abuse from angry fans after Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat against Swansea.
“For their first goal, it was a goal kick not a corner, simple as that,” Wenger said.
“I don’t think it was the right decision, but we have to cope with it. After that they scored a good goal.
“We had a good first half but dropped physically in the second. Many of the players are not used to that level.
“We had two or three chances to score a second but after that we know we can be in trouble.
“We have to wait for the draw but ideally you would want to finish first.”
Wenger, feeling the heat from supporters after seven years without a trophy, made seven changes from Saturday, sending out a weakened team including forgotten men Marouane Chamakh and Sebastien Squillaci and a first start for 20-year-old left-back Jernade Meade.
And, in the circumstances, it was hardly surprising that the makeshift Gunners made the kind of nervous, error-strewn start that has blighted their play in recent weeks.
Moroccan striker Chamakh has largely been discarded by Wenger over the last year and it was easy to see why as his poor control caused a pair of Arsenal attacks to peter out.
Aaron Ramsey should have opened the scoring when Chamakh nodded Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross into the Welsh midfielder’s path, but he completely miscued his shot and the ball bounced out of play off his shin.
Leonardo Jardim’s side almost made Arsenal pay moments later when Pablo Contreras’s header was cleared off the line by Rosicky.
But the Gunners took the lead in the 38th minute. Gervinho was the provider, jinking past several defenders before cutting a pass back to Czech midfielder Rosicky, who drove a first-time shot past former Manchester United keeper Roy Carroll for his first goal since March.
Wenger was forced to send on Andrey Arshavin for the injured Rosicky at half-time and Russian was into the action early on as he headed over from Chamakh’s cross.
Arshavin went close on the hour with a powerful strike that Carroll pushed away at his near post, but Arsenal’s defensive frailties returned to haunt them as Olympiakos snatched an equaliser in the 65th minute.
There was a hint of controversy about the goal as Arsenal claimed Szczesny didn’t get a touch on a Paulo Machado header which resulted in the corner that produced the goal.
Arsenal failed to clear the set-piece and Djamel Abdoun hooked a cross back into the area, where Ramsey carelessly chested the ball towards Maniatis and the midfielder bundled his close-range shot past Szczesny.
It got even worse for the Gunners eight minutes later when the Wenger’s defence backed off too far, allowing substitute Mitroglou to curl a superb strike past Szczesny from the edge of the area.
Wenger was reduced to frustrated scowls on the touchline as Arsenal failed to mount any response and Olympiakos easily held out to inflict more misery on the Gunners.