Arshavin inspires Arsenal win
Robin van Persie rewarded Arsenal's patience as the Gunners finally shattered Olympiakos's stubborn resistance to claim a 2-0 win in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.
Arsene Wenger's side dominated the Group H clash at the Emirates Stadium from start to finish, but were frustrated until 12 minutes from full-time by a superb display from Antonis Nikopolidis. Greek goalkeeper Nikopolidis made a series of fine saves to keep Arsenal at bay until Dutch striker Van Persie slotted home and then Andrei Arshavin notched the second to give the scoreline a more realistic look.
Wenger will become the longest serving manager in Arsenal's history on Thursday when his tenure in north London stretches to 13 years and this was the perfect way to celebrate that milestone. His team produced the kind of eye-catching play that Wenger loves and more importantly maintained their winning start to the group stage.
"I am very happy," the Arsenal boss said. "We had a great first half and outstanding quality but unfortunately we couldn't take advantage of it. It was difficult to maintain that pace and quality for 90 minutes but overall I think we dominated from the first minute until the last. We kept composure and we always played with the desire to keep discipline in the team. We have matured and a game like that shows that."
After falling two goals behind to Standard Liege in a woeful opening to their first Champions League group game two weeks ago, Arsenal made a much sharper start this time. Their movement off the ball was too much for Olympiakos's statuesque defence and should have led to a goal in the 13th minute. Gael Clichy made a perfectly timed run down the left and his cutback from the touchline gave Arshavin the chance to force a smart stop from Nikopolidis.
Wenger's side went even closer moments later. A mesmerising exchange between van Persie and Arshavin cut open the Greek defence and Cesc Fabregas drove a fierce strike onto the crossbar. Van Persie seized on the rebound and fed Tomas Rosicky, only for Nikopolidis to push away his shot.
At 38 years old Nikopolidis is well into the twilight of his career, but he was keeping Olympiakos in the match almost single-handedly and denied Arshavin again, this time low down at his near post. Arshavin seemed to induce mass panic in the Olympiakos back-four whenever the Russian ran at them and chances continued to flow. His incisive pass gave Fabregas a clear sight of goal but Nikopolidis came to the rescue once more as he repelled the Spaniard's shot.
Such a ferocious onslaught left Zico's team with nothing more than self-preservation on their minds. Twice in quick succession, Van Persie tricked Raul Bravo to such an extent that the left-back was left flat on his back, but the Dutch forward's finish was too tame to beat Nikopolidis.
Olympiakos finally caused Arsenal hearts to flutter just after half-time when Olof Mellberg's header looped goalwards before young Italian keeper Vito Mannone clawed it to safety. Arsenal's response was immediate and Van Persie took Emmanuel Eboue's pass in stride before forcing another good save from Nikopolidis.
Nikopolidis was called into action on fewer occasions after the break but he was still alert and when he kept out van Persie's snapshot, Arsenal's frustration grew. But Wenger sent on Croatia forward Eduardo and Mexican striker Carlos Vela in a final attempt to break down the Olympiakos rearguard.
The move paid dividends immediately as Eduardo combined with Van Persie to break the deadlock in the 78th minute. Fabregas started the move with a glorious pass to Eduardo and the Croatian timed his cutback perfectly for Van Persie to sweep past Nikopolidis at last.
That broke Olympiakos once and for all and Arshavin, standing in what looked an offside position, cleverly back-heeled in Fabregas's cross to seal the victory in the 86th minute.