Arsenal showed more depths of resolve as the Gunners travelled to one of the most hostile away grounds in Europe and came away with a precious win.
A late predatory finish from the revitalised Alexandre Lacazette was enough to grab the initiative in this two-legged Europa League knockout round, as the side rocked up to Greece with a new formation and a tigerish spirit to keep a clean sheet.
Mikel Arteta made several changes for this game. A 3-5-2 lineup was the order of the day, with Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis and David Luiz making up the defence, with both the recalled Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka in the hub of midfield. Slightly further forward were the sensational Saka, Willock and Martinelli, with both Lacazette and Aubameyang starting alongside each other.
It was the home side that reacted quickest to the vociferous home crowd though, with two early chances. First, a Valbuena effort stretched Leno, then a close range header flew just over the bar. We got away with it though, and our clean sheet was intact.
We showed we had enough to trouble them soon after, with an Auba cross evading the toes of both Martinelli and Lacazette by mere inches.
With twenty minutes on the clock though and the home side controlling the game, we missed a gilt-edged opportunity. A Martinelli cutback was perfect for Lacazette, but the French striker put his chance just wide when it looked easier to score.
We could have been made to pay for such profligacy, as just minutes later a Luiz deflection looked close to breaking the deadlock, only for Leno to save smartly. It was the last real chance of the half, and we went in level – but with Leno the reason for that, as well as poor finishing on our part.
The second half started with most of the ball being fought for in the centre of the park, and with 58 minutes on the clock, Arteta made his first switch, swapping out Martinelli for Dani Ceballos. It didn’t have an instant impact though, with Valbueno testing Leno from a set piece and also teeing up Ba to head toward goal, only for Leno to save extremely well from that effort too.
With fifteen minutes left, Arteta made his second sub, Pepe coming on for Jo Willock, and minutes later, we had that precious goal. Auba performed miracles to keep a ball in out wide, and he held it up and waited for Saka’s run. The striker found the teenager, who looked up and threaded a square pass through to Laca, who nipped in ahead of the home keeper to blast home.
There was less than ten minutes left to keep the scoreline firmly in our favour and we came so close to doubling it, with first Lacazette having a shot turned around the post and from the corner, Sokratis flicked his header onto the bar.
Olympiacos couldn’t muster another meaningful attack so we take a 1-0 lead and a precious away goal to The Emirates next week.
It’s advantage Arsenal, but what can we learn from our performance?
Arteta is Adapting
The system changed for this game as the Spaniard named a 3-5-2 formation and different instructions. It could have been because of the fearsome reputation that the Greek side have at home, but first lesson of football is to play the team, not the occasion. Arteta had his side lined up well to stymie Olympiacos and create chances for us. It worked.
Laca Back In Goals
The Frenchman broke his duck in the weekend against Newcastle and while he still needs to sharpen, Laca scored again and his linkup play was superb. Hitting form at just the right time.
Guendouzi To Step Up
Arteta has touched on Guendouzi needing to improve in training to ensure he is selected and his inclusion means he is putting in the effort. The French midfielder did well in tracking back and also getting us on the front foot from a deep position. He has plenty to learn but Guendouzi is in the right place.
Result not to be underestimated
We have lost a few times to Olympiacos at their home ground over the last twenty years or so of European competition. Their ground has a reputation and for good reason. For this young side to go there, with injuries forcing certain selections too – and for us to win and do it with a clean sheet? That shows our side have what it takes. A great result.
Next up is a Premier League encounter against Everton.
Have a go at rating who you thought was our best man on the pitch here.