Arsenal romped to its fifth straight win in all competitions with a dominating display in a 2-0 Champions League victory over Olympiacos at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.
While in control of the group stage match from the opening minutes, the Gunners needed late goals from Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin to overcome the stubborn Greek side, who were kept in the game by some fine saves from keeper Antonis Nikopolidis.
Cesc Fabregas did beat the gray-haired Greek with a strike as early as minute 17, but his effort struck the crossbar. The rebound came out to Tomas Rosicky, who fired back on goal only to be denied by Nikopolidis.
That chance was set up by some fine interplay beginning with van Persie and Arshavin, who each had additional efforts in the opening half that were saved by the visiting keeper.
Just after the break, Olympiacos had a header off of a corner saved by Vito Mannone, in what amounted to its best chance on goal for the evening. After that, it was all Arsenal as the hosts looked to capture its second group win in as many matches in this season’s Champions League opening stage.
As the match passed the hour mark, the Gunners continued to apply attacking pressure. But like a number of occasions in recent years, the home crowd were urging on their Gunners in search of an opening goal during a game in which they should have been ahead by a couple goals by that point in the proceedings.
Eduardo da Silva soon replaced Rosicky, who looked his old creative, energetic self with a fine return performance in European competition. And just one minute after Carlos Vela was brought on to add more spark for Arsene Wenger’s side, the Gunners were finally able to break the scoreless deadlock.
The 78th-minute goal was set up by a through ball from Fabregas to Eduardo, whose timely run and cutback pass led to a goalmouth tap-in by van Persie.
Relieved to have finally broken through, Arsenal’s players continued to control possession while looking for a second goal, which came four minutes from time. Substitute Aaron Ramsey controlled a stray Olympiacos pass and fed a ball down the right-side channel to Fabregas, whose low cross was directed in by Arshavin’s crafty back heel flick.
The Russian looked to be slightly offside on the replay, but the goal was allowed. And considering the domination by Arsenal throughout the evening, no one was complaining with the decision on the play.
And though the goals came late, Wenger was not complaining either. “I’m very happy because we had a great first half with outstanding quality,” said the French manager in his post-match comments. “Unfortunately we couldn’t take advantage of it and at half time it was 0-0. It’s difficult to maintain that pace and quality for 90 minutes.
“In the second half our physicality dropped a little and our fluency went a little bit as well. It’s important then not to make a mistake and to dig deep and hope that they die a little bit more than us and take advantage in the last 20 minutes,” continued Wenger in the interview (featured on http://www.arsenal.com). “I think we dominated from the first to the last minute and Olympiacos defended very well. They were well organised and disciplined and gave absolutely everything for 90 minutes.”
That effort from the Greeks could have frustrated a young team such as the Gunners, yet Wenger was pleased with his team’s desire throughout. “I felt that for them to keep that focus, that concentration and the goalkeeper that quality for 90 minutes would be difficult.
“I always had hope but it’s true that we played 4-2-4 at one stage and that is always a gamble because you can be caught on the break,” added the manager. “I felt we kept composure and kept going. What I liked in our performance tonight was that we always played with a desire to keep the discipline in the team because that is very satisfying. We did not do anything crazy. We have matured and a game like that shows it.”