Arsenal played their second group game of this season's Champions League at home to Greek side Olympiacos last night. They had already drawn away to German champions Borussia Dortmund a couple of weeks ago, and a win was needed against Olympiacos to put them in a strong position in their group.
With nine first team players injured Arsene Wenger had to change things around a lot, and he did just that. Besides the players who were missing through injury he also decided to leave both Robin Van Persie and Aaron Ramsey out with Sunday's north London derby in mind. It meant Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played from the start, and both Tomas Rosicky and Marouane Chamakh started as well.
The Arsenal team almost had a Carling Cup feel about it, with so many fringe players getting a chance. Andre Santos got another chance at left back, and Alex Song had to play at the centre of the defence alongside Per Mertesacker with all of the other central defenders injured. It was vital that Arsenal started well to give them the confidence needed to get a win.
The first half was a very open affair with both teams looking good in attack, but looking unstable at the back. Arsenal had already been a little fortunate at the back when they took the lead after only eight minutes.
Chamberlain was making his Champions League debut, but he was far from tentative on such a big stage. He took a pass from Alex Song, ran into the box and cut the ball back across the keeper into the corner. It was a very good finish and it was exactly what Arsenal needed on the night.
Only 12 minutes later Arsenal doubled their lead and another Champions League full debutant for them was the scorer. This time it was Andre Santos who scored after he picked up a blocked effort from Chamakh, and finished cooly at the near post with his right foot.
Things were looking good for Arsenal at that stage, as long as they could keep Olympiacos at bay. The Arsenal defensive effort had looked far from stable up to then, and Olympiacos took advantage only seven minutes later. They took a a short corner and only Chamberlain was on hand to try to cut it out with the rest of the Arsenal defence absent without leave. The two players worked their way around Chamberlain and when the cross came in David Fuster rose unchallenged to head the ball into the net.
The first half remained very open after that, but there were no more goals from either side. At half time Arsenal assistant manager Pat Rice changed things around a little, and the Arsenal full-backs didn't push up as much in the second half. It meant Arsenal offered less in attack, but they looked far more secure in defence.
Wenger was serving the last game of his UEFA ban and he was unable to get in contact with Rice or the Arsenal players, but I would be surprised if he wasn't behind the tactical change for the second half. I'm sure he would have found a way to get his thought across to the team at some stage during the interval.
There were chances at both ends in the second half, but Arsenal had far more control of the game than they did before the break. Around the hour mark they got a fright when a shot from outside the box by Vassilis Torosidis crashed off the bar and bounced to safety. Wojciech Szczesny looked like he might just have got one finger to the ball to deflect it onto the bar, but it was very hard to tell whether he did or not.
As the game wore on Arsenal had a few decent chances on the break with Olympiacos pushing forward, but they failed to take any of them. It meant things got a little nervy for the fans towards the end, but they held out for a 2-1 win.
It may not have been a convincing Arsenal win, but the most important thing was getting the three points. Arsenal have now won three games in a row in three different competitions, and that's a good habit to be getting into. Considering how many players Arsenal had missing I was very pleased with the win, and I'm sure they will have a much stronger team at the weekend.
The result leaves Arsenal second in their group behind Marseille who beat Dortmund 3-0. Arsenal head to Marseille for their next group game in three weeks time, but there is a lot of football to be played before then.
Arsenal face a trip to local rivals Spurs on Sunday afternoon, and then the players will head off to play for their countries. I wouldn't be surprised to see up to six changes in the Arsenal team on Sunday, with RVP, Ramsey, Gervinho, Theo Walcott, Laurent Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs all possibly starting. I hope there will at least be a place on the bench for Chamberlain, as I feel he did well enough last night to suggest he can claim a more regular role.
Spurs have a Europa League game tonight against Irish club Shamrock Rovers, and I'll be cheering on the minnows. I'm sure Spurs will play a weakened team with Sunday's game in mind, and I really hope Rovers can make them pay. I have seen Rovers play live on many occasions, and my father has supported them for 60 years at least since he grew up beside their old ground.
When the international break ends Arsenal will have a home game in the Premier League against Sunderland on Sunday October 16th. I'll be making the trip to that game myself to meet up with quite a few other Arsenal fans from Ireland and a few other places too.
It will be an early start on the day, as I will be up at 4.30am and I probably won't be home until a little before midnight. I've never made the trip in one day before, as I usually try to stay in a hotel in the vicinity of the Emirates but it works out costing a little less to do it all in one day. I'll do my best to get a few pictures and post them here and on my tumblr account too.
That's it for today.
Here's Chamberlain's goal from last night.
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