No Nasri, Bendtner, Denilson, Djourou, Almunia, Walcott or Fabianski who are all out injured or not quite fit enough yet. But some stars are returning and Rosicky and Arshavin did so tonight with a bang. Delightful as it is to see a top notch performer like Andrey getting back in the groove it is just such a sheer joy to recall what a truly class act Tomas is. I'd quite forgotten how good this man can be. There were times tonight when we looked more like Barcelona than Barcelona, other than when it came to our less than clinical finishing.
Apart from Cesc hitting the bar and also missing a great chance near the end the reason we only notched up a low scoreline was down to a keeper with the number 71 on his back. Nikopolidis matched his ridiculous number with some quite ridiculous saves. It was rather like watching a replay of Mannone's display against Fulham. According to my mate Bob, with whom I travelled home on the tube, our lack of goals is all down to our playing 4-3-3 but although I see where he's coming from I do think Nikopolidis, who was a Greek Hero when his national team won Euro 2004, had quite a lot to do with it.
Although the visitors played in black the Greek section of fans were all done out in red and white striped home shirts, which made our stadium look even more red and white than usual. The French officials did very little of note except when an Olympiacos player rolled around on the floor for a bit and then the over dramatic Lannoy gesticulated as only a Frenchman can and occasionally flashed a yellow card to appease the whinging Greeks.
Both teams sat fairly deep early doors, which almost seems to be part of a European ritual rather than a sane tactical Champion's League ploy. Olympiacos parked the team bus and Arsenal battered them for the vast majority of the 90 minutes in an ever-increasing assault on their goal.
Arshavin with a shot blocked. Great play by Diaby but no end product. Arshavin cross and a naff punch by Nikopolidis before the ref got in Song's way. Inside the first 15 minutes we'd established that we were going to the team to boss proceedings and that's exactly what we did for the remainder of the match. Great skill by Clichy to leave a defender for dead, picked our Arshavin who saw his shot saved full length to the keepers left. Cesc with a left-footed drive that crashed against their bar. A Clichy cross flicked away from Cesc in good position. Diaby to Arshavin who made one of many brilliant touches before seeing his shot saved.
Foot up for an indirect freekick on Tomas, Cesc's shot blocked. The Greek fans were pretty noisy, it sounded just like Palmers Green any night of the week, except this lot had nothing whatsoever to be noisy about. Another Clichy cross, this one to Robin who's shot was defelcted for a corner. Some great play by Song who is growing in stature every game. Arshavin to Robin to Cesc who made the required space but saw his shot saved.
The Greeks played like total wimps when it came to anything approaching contact and invariably went down, very often before the ball arrived. Robin aimed for Tomas with a great cross that their keeper took well. Rosicky with a shot deflected for a corner. Robin almost there from another fine corner, then the Verminator nearly got on the end of it.
A foul throw, that wasn't given, lead to their only decent effort of the half from a header. More terrific play as Clichy stopped an attack, fed Arshavin who played in Clichy who set up Robin who fired over. Relentless attacking by Arsenal for no reward. Pathetic dive by Zairi. Van Persie with a cross come shot. Cesc with a header. Van Persie to Diaby who had a header that was not that far away. Another Arsenal break and another save, this one at the feet of Rosicky. Their first shooting chance was fired out for a throw just before Rosicky had another shot saved that saw us end the half goal less.
Half time. More of the same please: shoot the ball and they will come (goals).
Nothing changed about our attacking venture after the break, except that is was even more remorseless and built up to a higher tempo. The Verminator's already bandaged hand was trodden on. A great Arshavin solo was stopped. Leonardo won what I believe was their first corner. From it a goal bound header was brilliantly saved by Mannone who had done very well to stay awake, never mind make such an ace save. This was as I recall all he had to do all game. Robin went for a legitimate ball and the uppity Greeks badgered the weak ref into booking him. The tossers.
More great play by Tomas. Arshavin and Gallas almost pressed home an attack. Arsenal were by now totally dominant although still without a goal, but I can't say that I ever felt that we were not going to score. It was only ever going to be a question of when. Rosicky was shoved over in front of the lino who failed to flag but made a big fuss about where the kick should be taken from. All very French. Van Persie's free kick was met beyond the back post by our Belgium but his header went behind. Big handball appeal in the Greek box. Even Eboue got in on the act with run and cross that was cleared. He followed this up with a great piece of cutting out at the back in a rare Olympiacos attack, maybe their third of the match.
Tomas to Robin almost. Dudu very late on Diaby which earned him a yellow card. Eduardo replaced the nearly but not quite fit Rosicky. Arsenal piled pressure on the pressure. It was totally Arsenal controlling absolutely everything except the vital ball in the back of the net bit. Arshavin shot saved, Robin got involved but Gallas got caught offside. Ledesma with some classic Greek tragedy style acting goes down injured, except he's not. Diaby has a header saved following Andrey's cross and followed this with a decent shot. His last act as he was soon to be replaced by Carlos Vela. Just as in midweek things happen with Carlos on the field for some reason. Fabregas to Eduardo to Robin who timed a great run to fire home from close in. The very vital first goal was followed by very vital us not letting them have the ball for a bit.
A dive by Torosidis was followed by copious moaning and a yellow card, I'm not sure which it was he got the booking for but at least it shut him up. Having conceded the Greeks started getting a tad uppity. Arsenal started annoying them further with loads of passes in loads of moves. We chased, harried, passed, took the piss and then passed some more. Even Eboue came up with some effective flash play. Arshavin contented himself with sheer brilliance. Cesc on the right and fine, low ball in to Arshavin, maybe just offside, met by a fabulous back-heeled flick past the over-worked keeper. 2-0, game over and we're top of the league.
A Vela break could have lead to a third, as a cheeky pas by the AA man put Cesc in on goal but he dragged his shot wide. He then clattered someone down our left and was carded following more uncalled for amateur dramatics. Bravo was also carded for trying to stop Vela on the run. So 59,884 lucky punters were in tonight to see 23 Arsenal goal attempts in a 2-0 slaughter. Had our lot brought their shooting boots along it could have been double figures. As a result of a draw in the other group H match we are now three points clear at the top and we will piss Group H no problem.
Yes I know I shouldn't tempt fate, but if you doubt me you're not showing enough faith in this team.