Arsenal Captain, Aubameyang missed a one-on-one with 10 minutes left but Arsenal went through on aggregate.
Last night at the Emirates stadium in north London, Arsenal continued in their unhealthy habit of making life unnecessarily difficult for themselves. Having beaten their rival Olympiacos 3 – 1 in the first leg in Greece, they needed to finish the job in grand style but they lost 0 – 1 to the visitors but was lucky to go through following the hard work in the first leg.
Interestingly, the Gunners eventually went to the Europa League quarter finals, gaining revenge against the side who knocked them out of the competition last season. But it was job done only just and after a genuine scare, losing once again at home to Olympiacos after conceding a self-inflicted goal and passing up a string of chances, including a hat-trick of misses from returning captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Instead, Arsenal endured a night that was far more tense than it really needed to be or should have been against the Greek side, who ended with ten men, given the number of opportunities they created. And they ended it grateful for the cushion racked up in the first leg in Greece, which effectively earned them their place in the next round. They will have to be significantly better to go any further in this competition.
Manager Mikel Arteta said after the game, “I’m really happy to be through but we were nowhere near the levels that we have to set ourselves. We made it really difficult. Hopefully we can learn some lessons. We have beaten two good teams in Olympiacos and Benfica but the next one will be even tougher.”
Arsenal had Aubamayeng back after he was dropped for the north London derby following his late arrival and their significant first-leg advantage too. But they faced a side who travelled with genuine hope having won their previous two trips to the Emirates, including last season’s which sent Arsenal crashing out on away goals.
The early exchanges were tight with the first chance not arriving until former Arsenal defender Sokratis deflected a Pepe effort into the sidenetting. The two sides then traded great chances. One long punt from Jose Sa cleared Arsenal’s defence and put familiar foe Youssef El-Arabi, a scorer in his last two games against Arsenal, through on goal. But Bernd Leno held his nerve in the one-on-one that followed and deflected the ball over off his knee.
Olympiacos’s vocal subs and staff, providing some welcome atmosphere in the absence of the crowd, all rose as one in anticipation as the ball sailed over Arsenal’s backline then collectively head their heads in their hands after Leno’s save. They knew it was a huge chance. Aubameyang, who missed a last gasp chance to send Arsenal through last season, then fired his first attempt to make amends a year on over. It was a sign of things to come on a frustrating return for the Arsenal captain.
“I hope the weekend isn’t still on his mind,’ Arteta said. ‘We moved on, he started, and we expect when he does play, he performs at the level he can.’ Despite the mammoth task facing them Olympiacos’s start to the second half made it clear they had not given up. Kostas Fortounis and former Watford defender Jose Holebas went close before the Greeks got the goal that gave them further belief.
Ceballos was dispossessed by Yann M’Vila sparking the Olympiacos counter that ended with El-Arabi beating Leno with a deflected effort. Game on? The Olympiacos camp in the stands, who were kicking every ball and so boisterous they got a ticking off from the fourth official, thought so.
And while Arsenal continued to miss chances through Pepe, twice, Martin Odegaard and Aubameyang they still had the slenderest of hope. But that went with defender Ousseynou Ba whose night ended with him crying in the tunnel after he was sent off after picking off two yellows in quick succession. Thanks to their first-leg efforts, Arsenal just about avoided the same fate.