Lukas Podolski calms Arsenal’s nerves as stubborn Olympiakos are sent packing
Champions League: Arsenal 3 Olympiakos 1
Arsenal returned to winning ways and took a firm grip on Champions League qualification after brushing aside Olympiakos at the Emirates.
While the Gunners did not have it all their own way and were level at the break, goals from Gervinho, Lukas Podolski and substitute Aaron Ramsey ensured a second consecutive European win and six points from six in Group B so far.
With the German side Schalke next up at the Emirates on October 24, Arsene Wenger knows his side can take control of the group with victory and start looking towards the knockout stages.
Those kind of thoughts can wait, and Wenger was just happy to be on the winning side again after the disappointment of Saturday’s defeat to Chelsea.
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That result had taken the wind out of Arsenal’s sails and there was a feeling that Wenger would use this game to rotate, but he did nothing of the sort and picked nine of the 11 who had started against Chelsea. The only exceptions were Francis Coquelin in for the injured Abou Diaby and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain preferred to Ramsey on the right side of the attacking midfield three.
Wenger was clearly not underestimating the Greek champions who, with the young Portuguese manager Leandro Jardim in charge, are attempting to change the perception of them in Europe as a team to be feared only in Athens.
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They certainly held their own in the first half even if Santi Cazorla’s free-kick forced a decent save from the Hungarian keeper Balazs Megyeri, and there were signs of frustration as Laurent Koscielny was booked for a rash challenge that was perhaps worthy of a red.
At the other end Arsenal struggled to put attacking phases of play together. The Greeks’ two solid banks of four were hard to penetrate despite the promptings of Cazorla and some energetic frontrunning from Gervinho.
It was the Ivorian who broke the deadlock just four minutes before the break, and the goal was completely out of the blue.
Mikel Arteta attempted to win the ball on the edge of the Olympiakos box, but it squirted clear to Gervinho who took a touch before sending a low 25-yard effort that seemed to beat Megyeri a little too easily.
That looked to be that for the first-half action, but the visitors stunned the Emirates by drawing level on the stroke of half-time.
Arsenal did little to prevent Leandro Greco firing in a decent cross from the Greeks’ left flank, and Kostas Mitroglu rose above Koscielny to send a fine glancing header past Vito Mannone.
In truth Olympiakos deserved to be level and the Gunners trooped off at half-time knowing a considerable improvement was needed to bank the expected three points.
With Wenger suspended and in the stand, Steve Bould must have delivered the requisite half-time team talk because Arsenal did look energised after the break.
Gervinho had already gone had one mazy dribble when, after 55 minutes, he again tricked his way into the box. The Ivorian took advantage of a lucky ricochet off a defender and crossed low for Podolski to take a touch and then fire in a low shot that cannoned into the net off the legs of Megyeri, who really should have saved it.
The lead restored, Arsenal looked petrified of making the same mistake again and allowing the visitors back into the game. It was a worthy tactic, and a sensible one in Europe, even if the feeling persisted that a third goal would utterly deflate Olympiakos and lead to a comfortable end to proceedings.
Koscielny perhaps should have provided it on the hour mark, but he headed over with the goal gaping. Wenger sent on Theo Walcott in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but with such a slender lead the Emirates crowd did not feel secure.
Walcott made one surging run down the right and sent over a low cross which his captain, Thomas Vermaelen, just failed to convert with a rampaging run from the back.
Ramsey and Olivier Giroud were then summoned from the bench to replace Podolski and Gervinho, and Giroud thought he had his second Gunners goal only to see his goalbound effort strike a defender and bounce clear.
Salvation and security did not come until injury time when Ramsey was sent clear and clipped a delightful finish over Megyeri to put the result beyond any doubt.
Olympiakos were not the most troublesome opponents, but bouncing back from the Chelsea defeat, the first loss of what has been an entirely positive start to the season, cannot be undervalued. Arsenal will head to Upton Park on Saturday in good heart.
Arsenal: Mannone, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Walcott, 67), Cazorla, Podolski (Ramsey, 77), Gervinho (Giroud, 77).
Subs not used: Shea, Andre Santos, Giroud, Walcott, Ramsey, Djourou, Arshavin.
Olympiakos: Megyeri, Diakite (Ibagaza, 70), Manolas, Contreras, Holebas, Slovas, Maniatis, Greco, Fuster, Machado, Mitroglu.
Subs not used: Carroll, Modesto, Ibagaza, Pantelic, Lykogiannis, Diogo, Abdoun.
Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen (Norway)