Arsenal are struggling greatly in the Champions League, and the last match against Olympiakos just stresses the fact that the team is in need of serious introspection and changes.
Had Arsene Wenger known that David Ospina would pick this night to make the worst error of his Arsenal career so far or, indeed, of his entire professional career, he may not have selected him. The moment when the goalkeeper dropped Kostas Fortounis’s in swinging corner over his line to put Olympiakos 2-1 up at the Emirates Stadium will haunt him. In the press conference after, Wenger went on a stat-run when he reeled off Ospina’s numbers from his debut season at the club last time out, saying he had kept 14 clean sheets in 19 appearances – it was, in fact, 10 in 23 – but it served to illustrate a wider point: Wenger had the entirely viable impression that the Colombian had been solid; that he could trust him.
The very fact that Wenger chose Ospina over Petr Cech seems baffling and, in a top-level match where the fine details are key. Arsenal had to beat Olympiakos – Wenger had described the tie as must-win – and it made no sense to overlook Cech, his No1 goalkeeper and the one marquee signing that the club had made last summer to make the difference. If Cech was not signed to play in must-win important Champions’ League ties, what was he signed for? The argument that Wenger held him back for Sunday’s visit of Manchester United did not suffice.
Even more than Ospina’s fleeting moment of madness, the hardest blow for Arsenal came with the concession of the third goal, which eventually proved to be Olympiakos’s winner. It came less than one minute after Alexis Sánchez had equalised for 2-2, and just as Arsenal had built up a head of steam and appeared to have turned things around. As such, it was deflating in the extreme.
Arsenal had been level at 1-1 for only five minutes before Ospina’s error but this was something else and it highlighted the flaws in the team’s defensive concentration and what can seem like an inherent vulnerability when the stakes are at their highest. Arsenal’s ability to be floored by the sucker-punch is rivalled only by their failure to learn lessons. Olympiakos became the third visiting team in less than a year to score three times in a Champions League tie at the Emirates Stadium, following Monaco and Anderlecht, and the sixth to win in the past three years.
There was the infuriating sense of deja vu for the Arsenal support, with the tie following an extremely familiar pattern – Wenger’s attack-minded team carrying the fight on the front foot and conceding relatively few chances but being hit very hard when they did. Arsenal’s lack of ruthlessness killed them once again.