When the draw for the group was made, Arsenal were expected to have a stroll along with Bayern Munich as far as reaching the knock-outs was concerned. That certainly was not the case for Arsenal, as much it was for Bayern. Having lost 3 out of the first 4 matches, Arsenal required to equal or better the 3-2 win recorded by the Greeks at Emirates.
With Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin out injured, Arsenal were looking for some inspiration to settle their qualification, and they banked on Mesut Ozil to provide the spark that would help them get any win apart from a 1-0 or 2-1. But it was someone else who turned out to be the hero of this fairy-tale finish to the group stages. A hero who Wenger deserved for all the faith he put on him, and a hero Arsenal that needed the most in this crucial fixture.
Olivier Giroud, a man who has been largely criticized in his 3-and-a-half years and counting tenure at Arsenal and yet gave his heart and soul for the club, stepped up to take the matter into his hands and carry his club through. A sensational hat-trick, only the 4th Gunner to do so in the Champions League, from the Frenchman, would mean that Arsenal were very much guaranteed the second place finish in the group and qualification to the round of 16.
The first 20 minutes saw things happening quite against what was expected, for Olympiacos were attacking Arsenal and looking for the early goal that would put Arsenal very much on the back foot. They attacked Arsenal’s right-hand side majorly, because of the fact that Theo Walcott’s lack of tracking back left Hector Bellerin isolated and outnumbered against Seba and Masuaku. After 20 minutes, Arsene Wenger made Joel Campbell and Theo Walcott switch flanks after Arsenal managed to weather off the initial danger posed by the Greeks.
After that, Olympiacos were covered well and truly and it was Arsenal’s turn to take control of the game, as Mathieu Flamini hit the crossbar from Campbell’s cutback. However, a sublime through ball from Mesut Ozil after few minutes released Aaron Ramsey, who found Giroud in the middle. His header powered its way past Roberto into the net, and it was 1-0 to the Gunners. Just what Arsene Wenger wanted.
Early in the second half, an injury scare to Giroud ran chills down the spines of Arsenal fans after he twisted his ankle and stayed down. He received treatment for quite some time, and 4 minutes later, started off a brilliant move, that ultimately led to his second goal of the night. His hold up play allowed Ozil to release Campbell, whose slick pass was slot home the first time. 2-0 to Arsenal, Giroud gets his first CL brace.
At 2-0, a goal for Olympiacos would have taken them through, while a goal for Arsenal would mean Olympiacos would need three to qualify. But it was the latter that happened. Nacho Monreal’s cross clearly struck Elabdellaoui’s arm, and the referee awarded a penalty.
In the absence of Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla, and being on a hat-trick, Giroud stepped up to take the penalty. He sent the goalie in the wrong way, got his first hat trick for the Gunners, and they had both their feet in the round of 16. Quite a happy ending of what was a disastrous start to the group stage.
Cech made a great save, Koscielny cleared off a dangerous cross, and Mertesacker made a goal-saving tackle. It was altogether a team performance from the reds of North London. Players were out due to injuries, but not the spirit. All these mean that Arsenal are in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League for the 16th consecutive season.