Olympiacos gun down Arsenal

Olympiacos celebrated one of the best night’s in the club’s history by defeating Arsenal 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium in London and qualifying for the last 16 of the Europa League.

THE MATCH

Olympiacos came into this match buoyed by their 1-0 derby win over PAOK, but knowing full well that they had a mountain to climb to overturn their 1-0 first-leg defeat at home last week.

The Erythrolefki did, of course, come away with an improbable 3-2 victory in the Champions’ League Group Stage on their last visit here, and with Arsenal in unpredictable form this season, it was a case of anything is possible.

The Greeks brought a somewhat depleted side to England, shorn of some of their best players. Kostas Fortounis did not make the trip to London after a recent dispute with coach Pedro Martins. That was a blow to the Piraeus side, as was the absence of center-back Ruben Semedo, who was suspended.

But a disjointed first half saw the visitors more than match their English hosts, and it was the Greek side that had the best chance of the opening 45 minutes to score. That came on 36 minutes when Mady Camara burst through on goal down the left channel on a quick counter-attack, but the midfielder’s disappointing shot hit the side-netting rather than the back of the net.

Despite dominating the match for long spells possession-wise, Arsenal found it tough to get in behind a well-drilled Olympiacos midfield and defence, with only a couple of free-kicks and a disallowed goal for offside from Alexandre Lazazette to show for their efforts. The Frenchman tapped in from close-range from a Buyako Saka cross after 39 minutes, but it was correctly chalked off.

In the second hal,f the game was still delicately balanced and Olympiacos took it upon themselves to tilt things in their favor with a powerful start. Their efforts brought them a deserved opening goal on 53 minutes.

The breakthrough came from a corner-kick, with Frenchman Mathieu Valbuena curling over a dangerous delivery into the heart of the Arsenal penalty area. Everyone missed the inswinging ball at the near post and Cisse arrived perfectly unmarked to score with a stooping header to stun the home crowd into silence while sending the traveling Olympiacos fans into raptures.

The rapture almost turned into delirium just four minutes later when maurading left-back Kostas Tsimikas, who had done the damage against PAOK in similar fashion at the weekend, surged forward past two Arsenal defenders to the edge of the area before curling a right-footed shot towards the top corner. Leno, however, was equal to it, arching high to his left to tip it over the crossbar in spectacular fashion.

The momentum at that point was clearly with the visitors and it was on Arsenal to come up with a reaction. And the home side finally started to string a few passes together and got a shot on target after 77 minutes – a testament to Olympiacos’ strong defensive line.

The shot came from Pepe, who was starting to cause all sorts of problems for the visitors with his trickery, but the French forward’s shot was brilliantly saved by Jose Sa, while Lacazette failed to connect with a follow-up header.

Olympiacos then introduced a fresh pair of legs upfront in the form of Giorgos Masouras, who replaced Lazar Randelovic, but it was the home side who kept pressing for a winner within 90 minutes.

With the scoreline 1-0 in favor to Olympiacos at 90 minutes, extra time followed and Masouras almost put the visitors back in front after 109 minutes, but his curling effort hit the crossbar.

The visitors were to rue that miss four minutes later when Arsenal equalised to move ahead in the tie.

Aubameyang was the man on target, producing a brilliant bicycle kick from Özil’s cross to leave José Sá with no chance.

Olympiacos did not give up the ghost though, and the Piraeus club snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat in dramatic fashion when El Arabi prodded home from close range following Masouras inswinging cross with just two minutes left to play.

There was still time for a final twist, but Aubemeyang somehow managed to fire wide from six yards out with the goal at his mercy with the last kick of the game. He looked distraught as the referee blew the final whistle right afterwards, with Olympiacos celebrating another glorious night at this ground.

STARTING LINEUPS

Arsenal: 1 Leno (GK), 2 Bellerín, 8 Ceballos, 9 Lacazette, 10 Özil, 14 Aubameyang ©, 19 Pépé, 20 Mustafi, 23 David Luiz, 34 Xhaka, 77 Saka

Olympiacos: 1 José Sá (GK), 4 Camara, 5 Bouchalakis, 8 Guilherme, 11 El Arabi, 14 Elabdellaoui ©, 21 Tsimikas, 24 Ba, 28 Valbuena, 66 Cissé, 97 Randjelovic

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