Analysing how ruthless Arsenal put Olympiacos to the sword in the Europa League
Arsenal faced Olympiacos in the first-leg of their last-32 UEFA Europa League tie at Karaiskakis stadium in Greece. The Gunners are expected to win a tie such as this, but the first-leg was not as one-sided as it would have been predicted.
And even on paper, this fixture wasn’t really a one-sided affair. Olympiacos are leading the Greek league by a massive 16 points after 25 games. The Gunners, nevertheless, came away with a 3-1 win. The two late goals they scored means they have a very good advantage going into the second leg. So how did it transpire? Let us find out.
Analysing the key moments
Arsenal lined up with a 4-2-3-1 formation, a set-up they have come to trust in recent times after deploying a 3-man backline earlier in the season. Olympiacos also went with the same formation on paper.
But during the game, the players assumed different roles. This is evident in the image of the average player positions below. The Premier League outfit were far more attacking than their counterparts, and it paid off.
The attacking full-backs
As evident in the image above, Arsenal’s full-backs were really high. They were almost playing as wingers, and Kieran Tierney (in a black circle in the images below) in particular was a menace down that side.
He was very far up the pitch down the left-hand side and put in delicious balls in the starting stages of the first-half which resulted in great chances. However, none was converted.
Refusal to press from Olympiacos
Olympiacos undertook a passive approach to the game. They were letting Arsenal come against them in the hopes of repelling the attack in the final third. But their failure to close down the Gunners resulted in all three goals.
The first goal came from a long shot from Real Madrid loanee, Martin Odegaard. The midfielder took a long shot and almost tore the net. That goal resulted from him not being pressed by the Greek side’s defenders or midfielders, as evident in the picture below.
He was just pressed by one player, and by the time he got close to Norwegian (in the black circle), the shot already came and was past Jose Sa.
The second goal, just around the hour mark, also resulted from a quick corner where the Olympiacos players were sleeping. Willian (in the black circle) received the ball in space, and was allowed acres of green grass to cross the ball from.
Gabriel Magalhaes rose highest at the far post to head the ball in, and Arsenal were back in front. The scoreline read 2-1, and by this time, you’d expect Olympiacos players to press more and close the Arsenal players down.
But that did not happen. And around the 85th minute mark, Mohamed El Neny was allowed a lot of space outside the box to shoot from. Urging players to shoot from far off is a risky tactic. It works most of the times, but when it doesn’t, it looks really foolish on the part of the defensive team.
As you can see in the picture below, Elneny (in the black circle) is allowed a lot of space, with no opposition midfielder or defender bothering to close him down. The small black quadrant is where he let his shot fly from.
A dominant display on the ball
Arsenal were better on the ball than their opponents, in both the halves. Despite this being an away game, Mikel Arteta’s side controlled the ball more and passed it much more often and with way more accuracy.
This resulted in more shots for the Gunners. Long story short, they took the game to their opponents and did not settle for a mediocre result away from home. Instead, they wanted to kill the tie in the first half, and that is what they did.
Allowing Olympiacos back into the game
Arsenal only had themselves to blame for the Greek side’s equalizer in the 58th minute. Bernd Leno and Dani Ceballos screwed up royally to concede this goal.
The German goalkeeper passed to the Spaniard. The former Real Madrid man was pressed by a swarm of Olympiacos men. He lost the ball (in the black circle) and Youssef El Arabi (in possession) scored from long range, with Leno (green jersey) way off his goal line.
Individual performances and an inspired late substitution
For Arsenal, Gabriel was a rock. And moreover, he assisted and scored one himself. Such a performance deserves a section of its own. The Brazilian defender has been in inspired form ever since joining the club and his ability was on full display against the Greeks.
He was accurate with the ball at his feet and repelled any attack that came Arsenal’s way. A one-man army at the back for sure.
And it wasn’t just him, Odegaard had his best game in an Arsenal shirt. The 22-year-old created the most chances in the game and also had the most shots. A really great performance from him and a potential relief for Arteta as he might finally have the #10 he needs after Ozil’s departure.
Another excellent decision was to bring on the workhorse Elneny from the bench. The Egyptian came on for Willian to give Arsenal more stability in midfield at the expense of a winger.
But he took the onus to kill the game. Elneny let fly from distance and his rasping shot hit the post and went in. A really good decision, as it turns out. And probably a redemption for Arteta, as his first substitute, Ceballos in the 55th minute, did not work out so well.
For a lot of teams, a tie with 3 goals and a 2-goal lead is as good as done. The second-leg would be a formality. But for Arsenal, we just can’t say the same. Nevertheless, it is a big advantage to take into the second leg next week. Arteta’s side were brave, controlled the ball, and made use of Olympiacos not pressing them.
As a result, they attacked more and were rarely caught out on counters because Olympiacos did not press high up the pitch. The one time they did, Ceballos was dispossessed and Olympiacos scored. This is something that the Premier League must be wary of in the return leg. Apart from that, it was a complete performance from them.
(All match footage taken from DAZN)