Olympiakos 3 (Djebbour 16, Fuster 36, Modesto 89) Arsenal 1 (Benayoun 57)
(Champions League Group Stage)
It seems the knives are out again. Described as Euro flops in some quarters, and a laughing stock in others, it seems many of the press are finally able to pull the trigger on the negative stories they’ve been unable to run over the past month, thanks to our improved form. Never mind the fact that we qualified on matchday five, as group winners, and never mind the fact that our second string was up against a motivated Olympiakos who knew that victory was their only chance of progression, it was time to sharpen the knives and mention the C word. Crisis.
Last night’s display was, for the most part, pretty abject – there’s no getting away from that. But the Greeks are a tough nut to crack even if you face them at full strength, so to take a mixture of kids and out of favour squad players, and expect them to breeze through, was optimistic in the extreme. Having said that, it is certainly fair to ask for a little more than we got last night, particularly from some of the more experienced figures. Arshavin cannot seem to shake himself out of his current stupor, but his misplaced passes are now being combined with a sulky demeanour which doesn’t inspire confidence that he will improve anytime soon. That could be important – with Gervinho absent in January, he is likely to play a decent number of games, and we cannot afford passengers. Concerning.
Going forward, we generally looked fairly impotent. A few decent chances were carved, but we weren’t seriously threatening. At the other end, we seemed determined to concede at times, and unfortunately, we have to focus yet again on the goalkeeping. Fabianski was erratic, to say the very least, and imbued the rest of the defence (even the normally ice cool Vermaelen) with uncertainty, and hardly covered himself in glory for the opening goal. But worse was to follow after he went off injured. Mannone replaced him, and suffered a moment that will be replayed indefinitely – having done well to come out of his area and head the ball away, the resultant pot shot could have been caught, but sadly he completely lost his bearings, failing to realise he was back in his area, and instead attempted an ambitious scissor kick that hit nothing but air. The ball trickled slowly into the net, and his confidence visibly sapped.
Despite Benayoun’s excellent goal, we never really looked like getting back on terms, and their late third was deserved, even if their celebrations were soon cut short by Marseille’s late double in Dortmund. It wasn’t a performance that will live long in the memory, at least for the right reasons, but you can at least hope that some of the younger players will learn from the experience.
Of greater concern were the performances of the seniors, for whom such a lesson should be unnecessary. Squillaci looked like a man previously frozen out, while Chamakh still looks as impotent in and around the area as he looks decent in the build up (his hold up play is actually pretty good). Chamakh in particular may yet be an important cog in the season, but on current form he is a rusty one at best.
But it is easy to forget that we had already won the group. Sky Sports certainly managed it, claiming we were ‘lucky we had already qualified’. Perhaps they should consider that we might have fielded a stronger team had we not? Morons.
In any case, through we go, although so far our group winning achievement isn’t guaranteed to give us an easy draw. Zenit, AC Milan and Bayer Leverkusen are potential opponents, with more to arrive tonight. But for now, forget the criticism. We’re through.
In other news, tonight sees the launch of the Arseblog Book – So Paddy Got Up, which has a long and distinguished list of contributors. I’ll be going along to the launch itself, which is in the Tollington Pub on Hornsey Road, at 7 tonight, so if you are heading along, say hi.