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Arsenal win ugly to take charge of group

Thursday, 4 October 2012 - 11:25am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
It was Brad Gilbert, the long-time coach of tennis great Andre Agassi, who first coined the phrase 'winning ugly'.

Arsenal 3 Olympiakos 1

It was Brad Gilbert, the long-time coach of tennis great Andre Agassi, who first coined the phrase 'winning ugly'. That ability to grind out a result even when you are performing well below your best is a priceless attribute in any sport but, in English football, it is difficult to think of a club who are less associated with that particular quality than Arsenal.

And that it is why, even after their least convincing performance of a season that has begun with surprising promise, Arsene Wenger was entitled on Wednesday to take considerable solace from a rare victory of grit rather than fluency.

A second win, coupled with Schalke's draw against Montpellier, means that Arsenal have taken early control of Group B.

Arsenal's efforts were best encapsulated by Gervinho, their makeshift centre-forward, whose deficiencies in composure are mitigated by his sheer energy. Gervinho scored Arsenal's first and then created their second last night for Lukas Podolski. Between them, Gervinho and Podolski have also now scored nine times this season - one more than Robin van Persie's tally so far for Manchester United.

Wenger was denied the chance to recall Per Mertesacker to the starting line-up after the Germany international fell ill before the game.

That may have influenced his decision to select a slightly more defensive-minded midfield, with Francis Coquelin joining Mikel Arteta as the central two. Arteta has been carrying an ankle injury but the importance of gaining early wins in the Champions League group phase was underlined by the gamble taken on his fitness.

With Wenger serving the second of his three-game Uefa touchline ban, he was forced to watch from the directors' box where he was engaged in prolonged conversation with Roy Hodgson, the England manager.

Hodgson will have taken a particular interest in Arsenal's right-sided combination of Carl Jenkinson, who is also eligible for Finland, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Arsenal's first serious attack was from a dipping Santi Cazorla free-kick that was acrobatically tipped over by Balazs Megyeri. Vito Mannone, his opposite number in the Arsenal goal, was also quickly involved for rather more unwanted reasons when his misdirected clearance gift-wrapped Olympiakos an early sight of goal. Mannone had failed to find Thomas Vermaelen with a simple clearance and, uncharacteristically, he was not the only Arsenal player who was struggling to locate a team-mate in red and white.

It made for a strangely disjointed first-half spectacle, with Arsenal's frustrations summed up by a scruffy studs-up challenge from Laurent Koscielny that could have been punished with more than a yellow card.

Arsenal's inability to find their rhythm ensured that Olympiakos also carried a persistent threat. From Paulo Machado's pullback, Kostas Mitroglou forced Mannone to make a good save low to his left. Olympiakos then really should have taken the lead. Giannis Maniatis broke into space down the right and his cross was met in the space between Jenkinson and Koscielny by Machado.

It was a free shot from inside the six-yard box but, fortuitously for Arsenal, he scooped his half volley over the bar. With half-time looming, the finishing from both teams suddenly clicked into place.

Cazorla had created space down the left with a moment of wonderful skill, with the ball eventually finding its way to Gervinho on the edge of the penalty area. Gervinho glanced up and then cleverly arrowed his shot back across Megyeri and into the corner of the goal. Arsenal, though, could maintain their lead for only three minutes.

Leandro Greco was permitted time to deliver a perfectly flighted cross between Koscielny and Vermaelen, with Mitroglou brilliantly aiming his header past Mannone.

It can be safely assumed that some home-truths were delivered at half-time by Steve Bould, the assistant manager, and Arsenal did emerge with rather more purpose.

Gervinho was rewarded for his persistence when he punished hesitancy in the Olympiakos defence to cross for Podolski. The striker collected the ball with his back to goal but, in showing his obvious goalscoring instinct, quickly shot through a cluttered penalty area and between the legs of an embarrassed Megyeri.

Having taken the lead for a second time, Arsenal were more streetwise in defending their advantage. Olivier Giroud, a late substitute, had two goalbound shouts blocked and, with Olympiakos pouring forward in injury time, Aaron Ramsey delivered a calmly chipped finish to place some gloss on Arsenal's victory with virtually the last kick of the match.

 


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