x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Arsenal back on right track in Champions League with win over Olympiakos

The young English Premier League side beat the Greek champions, but only just, in their Champions League Group F game on Wednesday night.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, left, scored a goal in the eighth minute to give Arsenal the lead at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, left, scored a goal in the eighth minute to give Arsenal the lead at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.

LONDON // "A train that started late from the station," is Arsene Wenger's picturesque way of describing Arsenal's opening to the season. Six weeks into a tumultuous journey, his team have finally reached three consecutive stations on time.

Home victories over Shrewsbury Town, Bolton Wanderers and Olympiakos in League Cup, Premier League and Champions League would normally be taken as read. It is measure of the uneasiness around this present Arsenal that not one has come without complication.

This Group F fixture should have been decided the moment Andre Santos carved in a clever second after just 20 minutes. Instead the home side's familiar frailties resurfaced as the Greek champions created - and spurned - enough opportunities to make the points their own.

Again, Arsenal kicked off in front of a telling percentage of empty seats. Again, they started with a captain whose medium-term future at the club was unsure. Too early to worry about a contract that will be down to its final year next summer, argued Robin van Persie's coach. Again, Wenger selected from a squad winnowed away by injuries. Doing without nine sidelined senior players is almost a common complication for the Frenchman these days.

With the influential Aaron Ramsey among those rested ahead of Sunday's trip to Tottenham Hotspur, Wenger made six changes to the team that beat Bolton. Buffeted by Europe's financial crisis, Olympiakos meanwhile were almost unrecognisable from the team that played here two years previously. Only Olof Mellberg and Vassilis Torossidis remained.

Parked high in the stands by his Uefa touchline ban, Wenger had the pleasure of observing an impressive entry into Champions League football by one of his summer signings. Just eight minutes into the biggest match of his young career, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made the breakthrough as he accelerated beyond the defence before angling his shot back beyond Franco Costanzo.

Soon the lead was doubled. On his own European debut for the club, Andre Santos sprinted into space on the left and crossed precisely to Marouane Chamakh. The striker's shot was blocked but only back to the Brazilian full-back, who scored sweetly at the near post.

A match that seemed comfortable was then turned on its head by a familiar Arsenal failing. Olympiakos had threatened at early set pieces, their goal on 27 minutes was embarrassing.

Kevin Mirallas and Ariel Ibagaza played a one-two at a corner kick, allowing the inventive Argentine playmaker to cross into the box. In so much space it could have been a Sunday League game, compatriot David Fuster rose to convert.

An individual long admired by Arsenal's manager, Torossidis almost exposed Arsenal's defensive disarray by stepping inside Andre Santos and curling an exquisite shot off the underside of the crossbar. Woijeich Szczesny's fingertip touch was just enough to preserve the lead as a concerned Wenger added Ramsey and Van Persie.

With them Arsenal survived. Their train, though, looks headed for another derailment.


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