Olympiakos vs. Arsenal: Winners and Losers from Champions League
Olivier Giroud scored a hat-trick as Arsenal advanced to the UEFA Champions League knockout stage with a 3-0 victory at Olympiakos on Wednesday night.
Following a poor start to their European campaign, Arsenal knew a two-goal victory was necessary to move into the last 16 for the 16th straight season. Giroud obliged, with room to spare, scoring in the 29th, 49th and 67th minutes.
The win meant Arsenal finished second in Group F with nine points. Olympiakos settled for third and fell to the UEFA Europa League.
Here, Bleacher Report selects winners and losers from the match.
Winner: Olivier Giroud
Olivier Giroud played the role of hero for Arsenal on Wednesday night, firing in a brilliant hat-trick to power the Gunners into the last 16.
The burly French forward opened the scoring with a near-post header in the 29th minute and doubled the advantage early in the second half with a side-foot finish. His third strike, a confident 67th-minute penalty, erased any doubts over Arsenal's progression into the knockout phase.
Giroud's big night should not be underestimated. A European hat-trick is a rare feat for Arsenal. According to Infostrada Sports, only three other Gunners have scored three times in a Champions League match.
Such a stat should improve the Frenchman's perception in the eyes of many Arsenal fans. As Bleacher Report's Sam Pilger wrote recently:
For so long a problem area in this Arsenal side, Giroud has quietly and effectively made himself the solution up top—even if he’s still waiting for the proper recognition.
Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and even Santi Cazorla are all feted at the Emirates Stadium, and it's time the same treatment was extended to Giroud.
That last part is unlikely, since Giroud can't match the silky technical skills of those celebrated teammates. But his big night in Greece will earn him a special place in fans' hearts.
Coming into Wedndesday's match, the odds strongly favored Olympiakos. The Piraeus-based side had won all 13 matches so far this season in the Greek Super League, and perhaps more pertinently, Arsenal had lost all three previous visits—all of which came on a Champions League Matchday 6—to Karaiskakis Stadium.
Granted, all of those losses happened after Arsenal had already qualified for the knockout stage. But the Gunners had a poor record against all Greek sides, winning none of their previous five in that country, per Opta Joe.
And yet, Olympiakos couldn't conjure the result they needed. Just one point from their final two group games would have guaranteed qualification, but even that modest goal proved too much to ask.
Winner: Joel Campbell
Joel Campbell enjoyed a happy return to Olympiakos, where he played on loan from Arsenal in 2013-14. The Costa Rican set up a goal with a clever assist and sparkled throughout the match on the flank.
In addition, Campbell shored up Arsenal's right flank after switching sides with Theo Walcott. Olympiakos had started the match in the ascendancy, attacking with impunity down their left. But when Campbell moved across the formation, the hosts immediately posed less of a threat.
Watching Campbell excel at last for Arsenal, one can't help but cheer for him. The Costa Rican international literally waited years for a run in the team, and now he's taking that chance impressively.
"Really impressive run of form for Joel Campbell," tweeted Eurosport's Tom Adams. "Providing the cutting edge that (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) struggles with at times."
Take nothing away from Olivier Giroud, who was ruthless up front for Arsenal. But Roberto should have done better with the first goal.
The chance came in the 29th minute, when Mesut Ozil freed Aaron Ramsey down the left. Ramsey crossed to Giroud, who beat Roberto at his near post with a header. At this level, one would expect Roberto to keep it out. And with so much on the line, Roberto must be disappointed with himself.
Arsenal scored twice more, meaning it wasn't a fatal miscue. But the goal was critical for the visitors, who established a foothold in the match and were then able to go on and win it by the required margin.
Winner: Arsene Wenger
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger drew his share of criticism early in the group stage. Among other head-scratching decisions, the Frenchman demoted first-choice goalkeeper Petr Cech to the bench for Olympiakos' visit to the Emirates in the return fixture.
That game ended disastrously for Arsenal, with backup goalkeeper David Ospina committing an error in a 3-2 loss. But as much as Wenger deserved the second-guessing after that match, he warrants credit for his side's performance on Wednesday night.
Blighted by a long injury list—key contributors like Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla missed out—Arsenal still produced a wonderful display and secured the result needed to go through to the next round. The Gunners started cautiously, gained a foothold and hit Olympiakos with three good goals.
This performance was nearly everything that the Gunners weren't in the return fixture at the Emirates: professional, composed, ruthless and assured. And because of it, Arsenal have advanced to the round of 16 for the 16th straight season.
Once in the knockout stage, Wenger will have to find a way to turn around the disturbing recent trend of going out at the first hurdle.
But after pulling off a great escape, Arsenal should feel confident of overcoming that obstacle as well.
"This will certainly strengthen the belief of the squad," Wenger told UEFA.com. "It's a special night for us and will create a positive memory."
Winner: Premier League
So much for the Premier League's European crisis.
The four representatives of England's top flight started slowly in the Champions League this season. But three of the four—Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City—advanced to the knockout stage. Only Manchester United failed to do so.
None of the advancing three appear to be in the class of Barcelona or Bayern Munich, currently the class of Europe. But sending three of four clubs into the knockout stage is a good record for the Premier League.
"I told you before that it would be the greatest escape," Arsene Wenger told UEFA.com. "I must say I'm very proud of the team as we had to be right on the mental and tactical side. At 2-0 we had to push for a third goal, it was too dangerous to stay at 2-0."