ARSENAL’S winless run continued as they slumped to a 2-1 defeat at Olympiakos to miss out on seeding for the knockout stage of the Champions League.
Qualification was already secure ahead of the last Group B tie and manager Arsene Wenger had elected to leave several first-team regulars behind as 20-year-old defender Jernade Meade made his European debut.
Although Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky fired the Gunners ahead after 38 minutes, the Greeks fought back through a controversial effort by Giannis Maniatis and a well-taken strike from substitute Kostas Mitroglou to leave Wenger facing more questions about the direction of his team – who have now not won in the last four games and plummeted down the Premier League table.
While the manager was unhappy with Olympiacos’ opening goal, he had few other complaints about his team’s performance.
“It was an interesting game,” he said. “We had a good first half and we had two or three chances to score a second goal, but we needed a second goal. The younger players did well for an hour, that is very positive. Now we have to wait for the draw, but ideally you want to finish first [in the group]. The first goal was a goal kick, though, simple as that. What the referee behind the goal-line is doing nobody knows, but I don’t think it was the right decision. We had a positive game. It was not the result we wanted but overall it was a very encouraging game.”
It had been a bright start by the visitors, looking to silence the partisan home crowd.
Rosicky, fit again following a long injury lay-off, fed a quick pass on to Marouane Chamakh in the penalty area, but the ball got stuck under the Moroccan’s feet before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain drilled a low effort across the face of goal.
Olympiakos threatened down the left through Djamel Abdoun and his cutback to Rafik Djebbour was blocked at the near post by Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen.
On 17 minutes, Arsenal got away on the counter through Oxlade-Chamberlain in the right channel, and his deep cross was headed down by Chamakh. The ball bounced off a defender into the path of Aaron Ramsey, but the Wales midfielder mistimed his kick.
At the other end, Olympiakos captain Vassilis Torossidis saw his powerful downward header hacked off the line. Abdoun then forced a good save from Wojciech Szczesny as the hosts pressed again, spurred on by the vocal home support.
It was Arsenal, though, who took the lead on 38 minutes. The ball was worked to Gervinho out on the right, and for once the Ivory Coast forward showed good close control to weave into the penalty area, before cutting a pass back to the penalty spot – where Rosicky arrived on cue to sweep in his first goal since March 2012.
Rosicky was replaced for the start of the second half by Andrey Arshavin, although that could well have been tactical rather than enforced via another injury scare. The Russian darted away down the left on 54 minutes as Chamakh was released on the near side, but the Moroccan’s floated ball across the penalty area was just too high and Arshavin’s header went over.
Szczesny was fuming after Spanish referee Alberto Mallenco ruled he had touched a header from Paulo Machado behind for a corner, when the ball looked to have bounced wide off the bottom of the woodwork. Moments later the ball was only half-cleared and Abdoun lofted it back into the penalty area, where Giannis Maniatis bundled his shot in on off the far post. The Poland international remonstrated with the referee and was shown a yellow card. It should have been 2-1 to the Greeks soon after, but Djebbour guided his header wide after Machado had whipped the ball across the six-yard box.
Olympiakos were ahead on 73 minutes, when substitute Mitroglou turned on the edge of the penalty area before curling a fine effort past Szczesny.