Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Arsenal manage to make a parody of themselves

Defeats in football matches can do strange things to people. Even the most rational and calm people can get worked up into a frenzy of anger and frustration. There was plenty of that in evidence following Arsenal’s dreadful 3-2 defeat at home to Olympiakos, meaning Arsenal have a huge challenge ahead to even get close to getting out of the group stage of this season’s Champions League.
Whereas earlier this season I was incredibly angry and frustrated following the European defeat to Dinamo Zagreb, somehow I wasn’t as worked up about the home defeat to the Greeks, even though it is arguably a worse result. I was just left with an immense sense of disappointment that the same stupid mistakes are being made by Arsenal in the Champions League.
In the last year, Arsenal have conceded three goals at home in the each of the games against Anderlecht, Monaco and Olympiakos. This isn’t Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich we’re talking about, but incredibly average teams who should not be troubling the Gunners at the Emirates. But Arsenal find ways of shooting themselves in the foot, with the methods usually following a similar line.
Bar being caught hopelessly open on the counter-attack, there was almost a complete set of Arsenal European cock-ups on Tuesday night. Stupid deflected goal? Check. Goalkeeping howler? Check. Concede straight after scoring? Check. It’s almost so bad that it’s laughable. There’s virtually no need for opposing fans to mock because each time it happens, it feels like a giant parody of whatever the last European debacle was.
The team picked by Arsene Wenger to play on Tuesday should have been good enough to beat Olympiakos, especially after some of the flowing football that was played at Leicester on Saturday. Signs were good in the first half that the visitors weren’t just going to sit back for the draw, something that should have suited the Gunners. Before going 1-0 down, Arsenal should have been ahead if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott could had provided better finishes to lightning quick counter-attacks.
But Arsenal didn’t build enough pressure and invited Olympiakos to grow into the game. They forced a corner following poor communication at the back from Arsenal, and from the resulting set-piece, Oxlade-Chamberlain could only deflect the shot from the edge of the box past David Ospina.
The Gunners had looked laboured for most of the first half, but came to life after conceding. Alexis Sanchez found Theo Walcott and he somehow squeezed the ball over the goalkeeper. But, however bad that piece of goalkeeping was to let Walcott’s shot bounce off the keeper and into the net, there was worse to come in the game. Much worse to come.
Based on the second half of last season, there shouldn’t be many quarms about David Ospina playing. But when there is one of the best goalkeepers in Europe sat on the bench in a vital Champions League game, questions have to be asked about the Colombian’s selection. Arsene Wenger was understandably defensive post-match about his choice of goalkeeper, and he’s right to say that even great goalkeepers can make mistakes, but would Petr Cech have really made the same error that Ospina did to give Olympiakos at 2-1 lead at half-time? It would have been highly unlikely.
As soon as the corner was whipped in, there looked like there might be trouble. Ospina misjudged the flight of ball and managed to drop it over his goal-line. There are few worse ways for a goalkeeper to concede a goal. Bar injury, Ospina shouldn’t be seen in the team again until the Capital One Cup tie at Sheffield Wednesday.
Arsenal fought back to 2-2 with 25 minutes to go through a brilliant header from Alexis Sanchez, and from that point, there should have only been one winner. But a minute after levelling, Arsenal’s defence was all over the place, allowing Olympiakos to score with virtually their first attack of the half. It was baffling that Arsenal didn’t regain any sort of defensive shape after scoring, but it wasn’t overly surprising.
There were chances to draw level, but the damage had been done at the back. Conceding three goals at home once in a European game could be viewed as an accident, three times in a year is beyond a joke.
Arsenal are now in an incredibly precarious position in the Champions League. It’s not impossible to get through, indeed the Gunners have recovered from a similar start before, but that season didn’t include a double header with one of the best teams in Europe. Should the Bayern games go badly, part of me would hope Arsenal go out of Europe all together as I can’t really be bothered with the Europa League. Although if the Gunners do end up in that competition, I’m sure they’ll find more ways of shooting themselves in the foot.