Mikel Arteta treated this tie with the severity it demanded. The first leg showed Olympiacos had a side that could make a safe passage to the last 16 a real test and so the Spaniard named a side that paid respect to the fact.
Only two changes were made from the side that earned the 3-2 win over Everton in the weekend. Bukayo Saka came in for the injured Sead Kolasinac, and Eddie Nketiah was on the bench as Alexandre Lacazette came back into the side.
The first half was an exercise in frustration as the away side held firm in the face of Arsenal possession. Not pressure, but possession. We held onto the ball well enough but in terms of producing a goal threat, we were strangely lacking.
We had Pepe, Ozil, Aubameyang and Lacazette in the team, with Ceballos in midfield able to unlock the meanest of defences, but we posed no problems for the Olympiacos goalkeeper.
In fact, in the starkest possible way, we were limp.
The nearest we came is that Pepe fired a free kick narrowly wide. The rest of the half was a mess of missed passes, huff and puff but no cutting edge.
The second half started much like the first, with our team looking for that killer move, but there was no incisiveness on show. Arteta was getting increasingly frustrated on the sidelines and was clearly not happy that his instructions were not being carried out. It was pretty evident that he hadn’t engineered this performance.
With 53 minutes, the away side swung a ball into the box. It seemed pretty routine to deal with, but Cisse had a free run to get his head onto the ball and put it past Leno to leave things all square.
It wasn’t what we expected, but we had seen plenty of the ball but done nothing with it. So In the grand scheme of things, if you don’t make the most of the ball, you get punished and Olympiacos had done just that.
They weren’t done either. The goal had buoyed them and a long range effort required Leno to be at full stretch to deny them the outright lead. We were on our haunches and the Greek side could smell blood.
Xhaka worked some space to fire in an effort that fell wide as we finally began to show some teeth, but time was ticking for us to avoid extra time. Torreira came on for Ceballos, and then Willock was introduced but it didn’t do anything to galvanise us. Instead, the game marched on and full time hit us.
Extra time it was then.
We looked at least a bit more enterprising in extra time, but the nearest we came was a tame shout for handball which was rightfully ignored.
The second half of extra time was pretty much the same, aside from Olympiacos coming perilously close to going through as a piledriver clipped the crossbar.
This wouldn’t do. Our star-studded attack had been blanketed far too easily, but finally, we got a goal – and what a goal it was.
Ozil sent in a cross that sub Martinelli got a flick onto. The ball rocketed up and Aubameyang produced a bicycle kick that hit the net, sending us into raptures in the stands.
We couldn’t relax though. A goal was enough to send the Greek side through on away goals.
With just a minute left, a corner was headed away but it was delivered straight back in. There was Youssef El-Arabi to stick out a toe to put it beyond Leno and send the away side through for a victory that would knock us out of the competition.
With a minute left we still had another chance and goal-getter Auba shot inches wide, it was a far easier chance than his overhead kick but no cigar.
And that was that.
We were out.
There’s plenty to learn from that dejection. What can we take to build on?
Attack-Minded lineup not guaranteed goals
Ozil, Pepe, Auba and Laca all in one side. That would surely put the away side on the rack, right? No. We just didn’t get going, we didn’t create nearly enough and they were either millimetres away from a connection, or dropping deep to spark something. We didn’t perform. Simple.
Arteta Not Pleased and Rightfully so
The Spanish coach was animated, even in the first half. Arteta was trying to send out instructions, but they were obviously ignored. Arteta needs to get his boys back on the training field to reinforce his instructions as they weren’t carried out.
Rotation needed for next game
Martinelli, Torreira, Nketiah. Three players who can come straight in and change up the side for our next game. We will be tired and not at our best, so Guendouzi, Willock and Sokratis could be coming straight in – and if we want to continue our league form, we will need to inject some fresh blood into the team. On this evidence, we will need to do something.
FA Cup or bust
Silverware means a lot, and exiting the Europa League is not ideal for our hopes. It places extra emphasis on our FA Cup exploits. We need to go all out for it. This season needs it.