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Tuesday, December 4, 2012
UEFA Champions League: Olympiakos 2 Arsenal 1
Arsenal’s winless run continued as they slumped to a 2-1 defeat at Olympiacos to miss out on seeding for the knockout stage of the Champions League.
With qualification already secure ahead of the last Group B tie, 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 English side ahead after 38 minutes, the Greeks fought back through a somewhat 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.
It had been a bright start by the visitors, looking to silence the partisan crowd in the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium.
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.
Olympiacos 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 with a goal there for the taking.
At the other end, Olympiacos 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.
Olympiacos pressed for an equaliser as the hour passed, with Ljubomir Fejsa stabbing his angled effort into the side netting.
At the other end, Gervinho and Chamakh worked the ball out to Arshavin on the overlap down the right and the Russian’s snapshot was beaten away by Roy Carroll at his near post.
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.
The Arsenal keeper was incandescent with rage moments later when 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, to equalise on 64 minutes.
The Poland international remonstrated with the referee, and was shown a yellow card as Wenger bent the ear of the fourth official on the touchline.
It should have been 2-1 to the Greeks soon after, but somehow Djebbour guided his header wide after Machado had whipped the ball across the six-yard box from the right wing.
Olympiacos were ahead on 73 minutes, when substitute Mitroglou turned on the edge of the penalty area before curling a fine effort past Szczesny into the bottom corner.
Arsenal mounted a fightback in the last 10 minutes, with Oxlade-Chamberlain driving into the penalty area and cutting the ball back across the face of goal.
Meade was replaced by 18-year-old Swiss defender Martin Angha for the closing stages, but the Gunners were unable to conjure a late equaliser and so will head into the draw for the last 16 without the safety of a top seeding.
Olympiakos: Carroll, Diakite, Manolas, Contreras, Torosidis, Paulo Machado, Maniatis, Fejsa (Fuster, 60), Greco, Djebbour (Ibagaza, 82), Abdoun (Mitroglou, 72).
Unused subs: Megyeri, Pantelic, Fetfatzidis, Siovas
Arsenal: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Squillaci, Vermaelen, Meade (Angha, 83), Coquelin, Rosicky (Arshavin, 46), Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chamakh, Gervinho.
Unused subs: Shea, Ansah, Hajrovic, Monteiro, Akpom.
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain)