independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Podolski finds extra gear to put Arsenal firmly in the driving seat

Arsenal 3 Olympiakos 1
Champions League Group B

Artsenal's Lukas Podolski celebrates after scoring his side's second goal

Not every European night can be a vintage occasion, and not every win is a classic but when you have a goalscorer like Lukas Podolski with the happy knack of being in the right place at the right time, there remains an escape route.

In recent years it would surely have been Robin van Persie who would have popped up with the decisive goal for Arsenal on the occasion of a distinctly average team performance to salvage a home win in the Champions League. Last night it was Podolski and while Arsenal are still a long way from finding a first-choice centre-forward, let alone a man who can fill Van Persie's boots, this was still a satisfactory outcome for Arsene Wenger.

For that they owed much to the marvellous Santi Cazorla and the hard-working Gervinho, but also to the opportunism of Podolski to score the goal that made the difference.

In injury-time, substitute Aaron Ramsey broke away to score a third to seal the victory for his side with virtually the last kick of the game, although by then Olympiakos were tiring badly from their hard-running full-court press. It was Gervinho who led the line stoically for much of the match, to be replaced with 11 minutes remaining by Olivier Giroud, the summer signing, who, in an ideal world, would inherit Van Persie's role in the team.

He is clearly not at that level yet and while there are goals from the likes of Podolski that loss will not be felt too keenly in the Champions League -- but at some point the man who came from Montpellier will have to step up.

Giroud, who has just one Arsenal goal in the League Cup to his name so far, was unlucky to have a shot blocked in the final few minutes. At that point, before Ramsey scored the third, Arsenal were well in control but there were moments in the first half when they looked bereft of ideas before goals from Gervinho and then, after the Greeks equalised, Podolski decided the game.

It was a slow-burner to say the least, with a first half that only really came alive in the final few minutes. Up until then, Arsenal had made heavy weather of it and Wenger, serving the second game of his touchline ban in the directors' box, looked suitably morose.

If anything, Wenger's side were authors of their own problems, especially at the back. Laurent Koscielny looked like he might be on for one of those games when the outcome of events become uncertain around him after he was booked for a clumsy foul on Portuguese midfielder Paulo Machado.

Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen both attacked a cross from Giannis Maniatis on 35 minutes, missed it, and Machado, stealing in behind, should have done better.

Elsewhere, Arsenal were just not, well, doing the business. Out on the left wing, Podolski struggled to get in the game until he played a part in Arsenal's goal, which came against the run of play. Podolski and Cazorla exchanged passes and the former hit a cross that fell to Mikel Arteta who lost the ball in a challenge.

It fell kindly for Gervinho, who had the time to swivel and hit his shot beyond the reach of Balazs Megyeri in the Olympiakos goal.

It looked like Arsenal had been given a convenient get out but they were stung just minutes later. A cross from Leandro Greco on the left wing was met superbly by centre-forward Kostas Mitroglou, who flicked a header beyond Vito Mannone.

It was Steve Bould, Wenger's newly-promoted assistant, who took care of the team-talk and at first Arsenal came back out a much better side. Gervinho and Cazorla were at the heart of the best that their side created, including the second goal scored by Podolski.

Before then, Cazorla inexplicably put the ball wide when it was cut back to him by Gervinho. Then the striker had two chances to cross a ball from the left when his first attempt was blocked.

His second found Podolski, who swivelled neatly and struck a left-footed shot through the legs of goalkeeper Megyeri.

With Theo Walcott and Giroud on by then, Arsenal were well in control and Ramsey took the third goal well, running clear on a flick on from Giroud to chip the ball over Megyeri. (© Independent News Service)

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