Two games in, and Arsenal’s Champions League campaign is already in complete disarray following a hopelessly inept display that left Arsene Wenger’s side still looking for their first point in the competition and their prospects of reaching the knockout stages hinging on the outcome of the looming, back to back fixtures with Bayern Munich.
A disastrous defensive performance, capped by a shocking error by keeper David Ospina, included after Wenger opted to rest Petr Cech, condemned Arsenal to a second successive defeat in Group F following the opening game loss at Dinamo Zagreb.
“It is still possible of course to qualify but it is difficult to swallow losing a game like that,” said Wenger last night.
“We lost it on a lack of defensive concentration and bad luck. They had four shots on goal and we conceded three goals.
“The turning point at 2-2 is we give them a goal again straight away. If it stays 2-2 for five minutes we win the game.
“A goalkeeper can make a mistake, that doesn’t explain that we lose the game. It happened to Petr Cech already this season [against West Ham].”
Wenger’s side recovered twice after conceding, first through Theo Walcott and then, after Ospina had made a complete mess of his attempt to deal with an inswinging corner, through Alexis Sanchez. But having equalised for the second time they conceded within a minute, allowing Alfred Finnbogason to secure the visitors’ victory.
Arsenal protested Ospina had not allowed Kosta Fortounis’ corner to cross the line but the goal-line official thought otherwise and in truth, they had only themselves to blame for failing to take anything from a game they had been expected to win comfortably.
Wenger’s team selection sent out a mixed message, making five changes to the side that ended Leicester City’s unbeaten start to the season on Saturday.
There was nothing to suggest Arsenal should have been unduly concerned about the visit of opponents who had lost on their previous 12 visits to England, conceding 37 goals and scoring just three in the process, and opened the group face with a 3-0 home defeat to Bayern Munich.
Nonetheless, there was little doubt Wenger’s side needed to settle nerves after their uncomfortable experience in Zagreb and the failure of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott to make more of good, early opportunities did nothing to eradicate the feeling that this could yet end up an uncomfortable evening for the home side.
Initially those misses simply appeared frustrating. It wasn’t long, however, before they began to look costly with Olympiacos unexpectedly taking the lead in the 32nd minute through a corner routine that should have been dealt with by Wenger’s side. The dead-ball was played directly to Felipe Pardo, positioned 20 yards out in front of goal and the midfielder’s shot deflected past Ospina off Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Arsenal’s response was as swift as it was impressive with Sanchez once the again at the heart of the move, this time moving past two defenders as he cut in from the left before playing a reverse pass that sent Walcott clear. The forward was faced with a tight angle and his shot should have been saved but Roberto simply succeeded in diverting the ball into his own net.
The relief was tangible but all too short-lived with Ospina’s error five minutes before the interval presenting the visitors with an unexpected half-time lead. Fortounis’ corner did swing in more than expected, forcing the keeper to move quickly sideways towards his own goal, but the Colombian should have tipped the ball to safety rather than pat it downwards where the official behind the goal adjudged it had crossed the line.
Arsenal fought back and the second equaliser finally came in the 65th minute when Walcott and Sanchez reversed roles, with Walcott this time teeing up his colleague with a well-weighted cross Sanchez headed beyond Roberto.
Again, the respite was brief. Just 60 seconds in fact as Olympiacos immediately restored their lead, taking advantage of woeful Arsenal defending. Substitute Alfred Finnbogason eventually turned the ball home.
Olympiacos were forced to hold on in the final stages, but Arsenal’s efforts were rooted more in desperation than expectation and they never looked like forcing their way back for a third time leaving Wenger to reflect on his decision to leave Cech - a player with more than 100 Champions League games behind him - on the bench.
Ospina 4; Bellerin 5 (Campbell 86,6), Koscielny 5 (Mertesacker 57,6), Gabriel 5, Gibbs 6; Coquelin 6 (Ramsey 60,6), Cazorla 6; Oxlade-Chamberlain 5, Ozil 4, Sanchez 7; Walcott 6.
Roberto 5; Elabdellaoui 7, Botia 7, Siovas 7, Salino 7; Pardo 8, Kasami 7, Cambiasso 9, Seba 7 (Hernani 73,6); Brown 7 (Finnbogason 46,6), Fortounis 9.
B Nijhuis (Netherlands)
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