Gunners stay on course
Olympiakos push Arsenal all the way at Emirates Stadium
Last Updated: 03/10/12 11:23pm
Arsenal are in a strong position to reach the UEFA Champions League knockout phase after producing a disjointed performance to beat Olympiakos 3-1 at Emirates Stadium.
Second-half goals from Lukas Podolski and Aaron Ramsey in injury-time delivered a second straight win in Group B for the Gunners, but it was far from a comfortable evening in North London.
Arsenal were sloppy for much of the first half, both with their passing and in defence, but Santi Cazorla did force a smart save out of Olympiakos keeper Balazs Megyeri on 13 minutes.
Olympiakos were a constant threat and the Greeks should have taken the lead 10 minutes before half-time when Paulo Machado steered his attempt over from six yards out after ghosting unmarked into the box.
The visitors were punished just seven minutes later when Arsenal worked the ball down the left and then inside before Gervinho fired home from the edge of the box.
However, Olympiakos were deservedly level when the half ticked into added time as Kostas Mitroglou deftly guided Leandro Greco's cross inside the far post.
Cazorla came close to restoring Arsenal's lead five minutes into the second half, but the home fans did not have to wait much longer to celebrate a second goal.
Gervinho was fortunate the ball bounced back to him after his attempted cross was blocked and he teed up Podolski to control and drill a low shot through the legs of Megyeri.
Substitute Olivier Giroud almost scored his first Champions League goal for Arsenal before Ramsey made the game safe in injury-time with a delightful dinked finish.
With manager Arsene Wenger watching in the stands for the second of his three-game European ban, the Gunners started brightly as the rain lashed down.
Gervinho was again deployed down the middle, ahead of England forward Theo Walcott and France international Giroud, who both watched on from the bench.
Both full-backs, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson - potential call-ups for England on Thursday - made ground down the flanks as the Greek champions were stretched.
In the 13th minute, goalkeeper Megyeri tipped over Cazorla's curling free-kick, while Olympiakos showed some intent, if without really stretching the Arsenal rearguard.
Gervinho appealed for a penalty when his flick caught Kostas Manolas on the arm, but Norwegian referee Svein Oddvar Moen was having none of it.
Laurent Koscielny, poor against Chelsea on Saturday, was shown a yellow card for clattering into Machado, which on another night could well have been red.
Arsenal keeper Vito Mannone had not had much to do in the first half hour, but was alert enough when Machado's cutback was turned goalwards across the wet surface by Mitroglou and the Italian got down to grab the ball as it headed towards the bottom right corner.
Olympiakos should have been in front in the 35th minute when captain Giannis Maniatis skipped down the right and crossed through the six-yard box, but arriving at pace Machado could only scoop the ball high over the crossbar.
Against the run of play, the Gunners were ahead three minutes before half-time.
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Gibbs and Podolski worked space down the left, and the ball was played back across the edge of the penalty area. Mikel Arteta won a 50/50 with Pablo Contreras, which saw possession break to Gervinho, who sidestepped his marker before beating the wrong-footed Megyeri with a low shot.
However, the lead did not last to the interval.
Arsenal were again caught cold at the back as Italian Greco whipped over a superb cross from the left touchline, which was guided into the net by a deft header from Mitroglou, who got between the two centre-halves.
There was more urgency about the Gunners after the break. Cazorla fired wide after good work from Gervinho, before home pressure was rewarded in the 56th minute.
Again Gervinho was involved as he battled into the left side of the penalty area and picked out Podolski, who turned to drill the ball through the keeper's legs.
With confidence restored, Arsenal maintained the tempo as Koscielny headed over.
Walcott was sent on to give the Greeks something else to worry about for the final 20 minutes, replacing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
More changes followed as goalscorers Gervinho and Podolski were given a well-earned break as Giroud and Ramsey came on.
Walcott darted down the right and crossed into the six-yard box, where Giroud's deft touch unfortunately floated straight to the keeper.
The Frenchman - signed for £12million from Montpellier in the summer, but with only one goal in the Capital One Cup against Coventry so far - was out of luck again in the closing stages as his first-time shot from Cazorla's cross hit Dimitrios Siovas at point-blank range.Ramsey wrapped up the victory when he latched onto Giroud's flicked header from Mannone's long goal-kick to skip into the penalty area and calmly chip the keeper.
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|5||Shots on Target||5|
|4||Shots off Target||6|
|69.9||1st Half Poss.||30.1|
|58.1||2nd Half Poss.||41.9|