Olympiakos 1 (Leonardo 47) Arsenal 0
Going into the match, I honestly feared for the kids. I know they’re talented, I know they aren’t fazed, but Olympiakos are a very decent side, especially at home, and some of these guys were making their debut in any competition, let alone Europe’s top table.
There was no need to worry. We took the game to our hosts, a team unsure whether to sit back and play for the draw they needed, or take advantage of the inexperienced nature of our side. For large parts, we dominated possession, but lacked the cutting edge that would have given us just reward. At half time, the home crowd booed their side off, an indication of how surprised they were to watch them outrun and outclassed.
The start of the second period saw the sort of mistake that gets punished at the top level. Bartley committed to a tackle, missed, and that allowed Leonardo to run into the space behind and slot past Fabianski. It was one of only two chances Olympiakos had – the other saw Fabianski make a fine save – but it was a reminder of what can happen in the blink of an eye.
That we didn’t manage a goal of our own was down to a combination of poor finishing – Vela missing the best two chances – and a lack of guile in the final third. All that improves with age, so at this point there is nothing to worry about. Much has been made of Vela’s lack of form in particular, but to write him off at this stage would be foolhardy beyond belief. We have seen glimpses of brilliance, and he is still so young that we should not expect miracles. It feels like he’s been around forever, but he is only 20.
Walcott is another who concerns people, and needs a run of games now to prove himself. Again, he has shown in the past what he can do, and he is a very good finisher when on song. Like Vela, we have to retain faith – he has plenty of time to develop.
All in all, it was extremely impressive stuff, but I have to pick out one man for particular praise, and that is Aaron Ramsey, who is well on the way to ending Diaby’s Arsenal career. Certainly the first team midfielders have to be looking over their shoulders – he shows maturity and vision far beyond his years. I suspect he’ll have a big part to play in the second half of the season.
The draw for the next round of the Champions League will be made next Friday, and it looks a strong one. I suspect we’ll have a tricky tie to look forward to.
It is Liverpool this Sunday, more on that tomorrow. Enjoy your Friday.