Olympiakos 3 Arsenal 1: Vito Mannone Steals the Show with a Classic Movie Scene
The picture was painted vividly for everyone to see. Arsenal Football Club had qualified as the winners of Group F, so it was an encounter of little or no importance to Arsene Wenger.
As expected, the figureheads of the club were given breathers as they watched their make-shift teammates take a flight from London to Athens.
The gooners expected a large chunk of the team that was impressive in the Carling Cup against Manchester City, and no eyebrows were raised when Lukasz Fabianski stood between the sticks with Vito Mannone served as his able deputy for the night.
Sagna's injury has seen the emergence of a versatile Laurent Koscielny, so Johan Djourou was given another chance in the unfamiliar right back position.
Everybody expected to see Ignasi Miquel in the left back position, but Arsene Wenger opted for the duo of Roberto Carlos and Andre Santos. The manager also took out time to visit the caves of France to summon Sebastien Squillaci from his lair, while Thomas Vermaelen was given the nod to lead the Gunners in Athens.
The midfield was reminiscent of the team in the Carling Cup with Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong manning the middle of the park while Andrey Arshavin played in front of them.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Yossi Benayoun offered wit down the flanks, and the focal point of the attack was the Moroccan bereft in confidence, Marouane Chamakh.
Fabianski was clearly a rusty figure leading to this match due to his severe lack of match fitness, and he showed signs early on when his clearance went straight at Kevin Mirallas. The midfielder teed the ball up for Modesto, but Emmanuel Frimpong did well enough to make Modesto mistime the ball.
Arshavin had the chance to draw first blood when Chamakh set him up well, but he somehow missed from eight yards out.
Andre Santos charged forward to receive Arshavin's pass before drilling the ball into the danger area, but Chamakh couldn't get to the ball in time, so another chance went begging.
Frimpong created a good chance for Chamakh, but the confidence-ridden forward took a touch too many before Olof Mellberg executed a perfectly-timed sliding tackle. The ball fell gracefully for Frimpong, who smashed it to the side netting.
Olympiakos took the lead when David Fuster sent a simple through-ball that brought out the worst in Squillaci and Djourou, as both defenders went for the ball. They ended up guiding the ball to Djebbour, who rounded Fabianski before slotting the ball to an unguarded net.
Fabianski showed more horror moments when his panicky clearance went straight to Mirallas, but the midfielder's audacious attempt was just a whisker away. However, the goalie's evening was short-lived, as he received a nasty gash on his knee following a clash with his captain for the night, Thomas Vermaelen.
The game became a rough affair with tackles flying in for fun. Francis Coquelin and some bloke called Holebas clashed, and shortly after that, Chamakh and Papadopoulos made the orderly run into the pitch with stretchers.
Vito Mannone replaced Fabianski after his knee injury, but this will be a game he'll want to forget in a long way after his antics in the 36th minute.
Frimpong lost the ball in the midfield, and it ricocheted towards Arsenal's danger area. Mirallas beat Squillaci for pace, so Mannone had to take the role of a goalkeeping sweeper. However, he had to use his head, as the ball was outside his box.
Fuster hoicked the ball towards the goal, but a backtracking Mannone stunned everyone when he chose to use his feet to attempt to clear the ball when he could have caught the ball easily.
Arsenal had a stinker in the first half, and everyone hoped that the second half would be an improvement. Olympiakos continued their onslaught on the Gunners, but Arsene Wenger and every Arsenal fan became deeply concerned when Andre Santos suffered an injury and was replaced by Ignasi Miquel.
Miquel got involved in the buildup to Arsenal's goal. He flicked the ball into the box towards Chamakh, who cushioned the ball carefully for Yossi Benayoun; the Isreali showed great technique to lash the ball past Megyeri in goal.
The goal was meant to inspire a comeback for the Gunners, but Arsene Wenger's men showed no desire, and they were punished late on.
Frimpong conceded a cheap free kick on the right, and it was swung into Arsenal's danger area by Mirallas. Olof Mellberg was the first to get to the ball, and his header hit the post, but Modesto was on hand to tuck it in from four yards.
The fans of the Greek outfit were the happiest folks on Earth at the sound of the final whistle, but their elation was changed to sadness in a matter of seconds when Olympique Marseille delivered a sucker punch with a last-gasp win over Borussia Dortmund, despite being two goals down.
Final score: Olympiakos 3 Arsenal 1
Fabianski (6.0) didn't have a good outing before getting injured.
Djourou (6.5) didn't offer much in attack.
Andre Santos (6.5) did okay, but almost gifted the hosts a goal with a poor header.
Vermaelen (7.0) was dominant at the back.
Squillaci (6.0) was a time-bomb waiting to explode in Arsenal's defense.
Frimpong (6.0) was sloppy in midfield and conceded too many fouls.
Coquelin (6.5) had a few decent touches in midfield.
Arshavin (5.5) put up another putrid performance.
Benayoun (8.0) showed a lot of flair and scored a thing of beauty.
Chamberlain (7.5) was very impressive down the right with his dribbles and burst of pace.
Chamakh (6.5) wasn't too impressive, but he had a hand in Arsenal's goal.
Mannone (5.0) proved why he's currently Arsenal's third-choice goalie.
Miquel (6.5) did well in Andre Santos' stead.
Rosicky (6.0) could've done a lot better with the chance Benayoun created for him.
Arsenal ended the group in pole position, and they'll avoid the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the draws for the knockout phases. This match had no importance in terms of qualification, but the performances of Arshavin and Chamakh were very questionable.
Arsene Wenger has to hope that Arshavin will step up his game when Gervinho represents his motherland in the African Cup of Nations because the Russian plays like a man down, and it's going to be difficult winning games with 10 men from the start of the match.
Everton comes up next, and the big Guns will be back in action.
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