Friday, December 7, 2012

Olympiakos 2 Arsenal 1

Another loss in three days didn't help lighten the mood of the Arsenal fans. If the team of fringe players had grabbed an away win to secure the top place in the group, what a lift it would have brought to the fans and the Club alike. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be.

Some fans are critical about Arsene's team selection, but we think it was the right decision to rest key players ahead of an important league match against West Brom this weekend. Walcott and Podolski had a knock during the Swansea game, while Arteta, Cazorla, and Mertesacker had played many games this season and could have done with a breather. Wilshere and Gibbs had just come back from injury and playing four games in two weeks could have led to an injury setback. If fatigue is one of the major factors behind Arsenal's recent slump in form, there was no reason why we shouldn't have taken advantage of the luxury we had. We had already qualified for the knockout stage in the Champions League. Although we could have finished top in the group and thus got a better chance to be drawn against a theoretically weaker opposition for the next round, it doesn't seem to make much difference whether you win the group or finish as runners-up as most of the runners up are as good as the group winners such as Real Madrid and AC Milan.

The decision to leave out key players was not bad, but the problem was that our second-string players were not good enough to even beat an average Olympiakos side on the day. Arsenal had acres of space, which is rarely seen in the Premier League games, but still couldn't covert those chances they created in the first half. Gervinho, who had a good pre-season and start to the season, looked clueless, apart from his pin-point pass to Rosicky, which led to Arsenal's only goal. The Ivorian has been very frustrating this season. The Ox, who made a sensational debut to the Champions League in last season's home match against Olympiakos, was ineffective in this game and his recent form suggests that he has gone backwards since the promising start to his Arsenal career last season. Chamakh might as well not be on the pitch. Ramsey has been struggling to get back to where he was before his horrific injury or even to reproduce his best performance this season against Manchester City.

The corner kick which led to Olympiakos' second goal was disputable, but even if it was wrongfully awarded, we should still have been able to defend it. Poor defence was to blame.

We talked about Arsenal's passing game in the last post. Here is Rosicky's observation on Arsenal's recent performance: "Sometimes we don't keep the ball as we used to. It is definitely a matter of confidence. You can see there are more back passes than we used to do. "

There are some alarming stats for this game: Arsenal's overall possession was 46.9%, while their passing success rate was 80.3% against the hosts' 82.4%. The passing success rate was way below the north London club's average. The decline in possession, as Rosicky pointed out, was not only highlighted in this game, but also in the season so far. Arsenal's average possession in the league is 59.3%, down 8 percentage points from the last season's 60.1%. Hopefully, it is nothing more than a confidence thing, as Rosicky claimed, and  as soon as the team has got back in winning ways, their game will come back to them. However, chances are that it will be extremely difficult to get the result as long as Arsenal stick to their style of play, while their passing is not up to scratch.

On a positive side, Rosicky's first start of the season saw a great success. He has reminded us what a classy player we have been missing this season until now. He pulled the strings in the heart of Arsenal attack and his finish was a different class. Indeed, he was a class above those players he played with this night and the scoreline told the whole story.

Another positive was Jernade Meade's performance. Arsene Wenger was pleased with the 20-year-old left-back's display, stating the youth player was his "pick". Despite seven youth players included in the squad, he was the only starter among them. He didn't have fitness to compete for a full 90-minutes at this level and still have lot to learn, but he made an encouraging debut in first-team action.

This game did not mean too much to us in the first place. Our entire focus is on this weekend's Premier League game against West Brom. Getting back on track and starting catching up with the mix for the top-four finish are our top priority at the moment.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 7
Another busy game. Made some fine saves.

Jenkinson: 7
Did OK, but made a defensive mistake, which nearly cost us a goal.

Squillaci: 6
It is a mystery why he was selected ahead of Djourou.

Vermaelen: 6
In the last two games, he looked as if he had started getting his confidence back, but this game has undone the improvement. No leadership on the pitch.

Meade: 7
Did OK.

Rosicky: 8
Classiest player on the pitch. As previously arranged, he only played a half. It is a bright outlook what he can bring to the first team when he is fully fit.

Ramsey: 5
Missed a great chance to score by miskicking. Olympiakos' first goal, in which Ramsey had a hand, summarised the miserable night for the Welshman. Last season he often got in a great position, but his finishing let him down. And his finishing has still not improved. Ex-Arsenal player, Charlie Nicholas questioned Arsenal's coaching system. Why can't players like Ramsey and Gervinho get a help for improving their finishing?

Coquelin: 5

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6

Gervinho: 6
Apart from a fine cut-back to set up Rosicky's goal, did nothing.

Chamakh: 6
This game did him no favours.


Arshavin: 6
Came off the bench at half time to replace Rosicky. Had two good chances to score, one of which forced a fine save from Roy Carroll.

Angha: 5
83-minute substitute for tired Meade.

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