It should have been a lot easier for the Gunners in the Europa League last 16 but poor finishing meant they lost the second leg to Olympiacos
For the second time this week, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s timing was a little off.
The Arsenal captain was back in the side against Olympiacos – after being dropped against Tottenham for turning up late – but the Gabon international looked like he was still way off the pace.
Aubameyang endured a miserable night in front of goal, missing several excellent chances to put the game to bed for his side and send them cruising into the Europa League quarter-finals.
Instead they had to endure another nervy evening against the Greek champions in north London as they edged through to the last eight 3-2 on aggregate, despite losing 1-0 on the night.
“I hope he doesn’t, we have moved on from that,” Mikel Arteta said after the game, when asked whether he captain still had thoughts in his head about what had gone on at the weekend.
“He started the game and we expect when he does play he performs at the level he can.”
It’s been just over a year since Olympiacos stunned Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium and sent them crashing out of this competition at the first knockout stage.
Memories of that dramatic evening have been fresh in everyone’s mind since this season’s draw once again paired the two sides together, but Arsenal’s 3-1 win in Greece last week ensured they had far more of a buffer this time around.
And they did need it, with the visitors threatening a comeback when Youssef El-Arabi – scorer of the winning goal last season – gave Olympiacos a 1-0 lead early in the second half.
But that was as good as it got for the visitors, who never really looked like adding to their lead in the closing stages.
The victory over two legs will heal some scars for Arsenal and it ensures they have progressed through to the quarter-finals of the Europa League for the third time in four seasons.
But it wasn’t pretty, with Arteta’s side once again showing how much they struggle when trying to see a game out.
And the Gunners boss knows that things must improve if they are going to go on a progress through the latter stages of the competition.
“I am pleased because we are through and last year we went out to them,” he said. “But if I have to evaluate the performance, what we have done today with the ball is nowhere near the standards we have set ourselves and we made it really difficult.
“When you give the amount of balls away that we did, you don’t have the control you need to manage the tie the way you should. And that’s related as well to the amount of chances we missed again.”
Arsenal lost their way completely in the final 15 minutes against Spurs at the weekend and almost threw away a game they had completely dominated.
Arteta admitted after that match that his side had managed the closing stages ‘really, really badly’ and called on his players to avoid making the same mistakes against Olympiacos.
But after El-Arabi had given Olympiacos the lead on the night, it was a case of same old story for Arsenal.
They just couldn’t get a grip on the game and, although they never really looked like conceding again, Arteta is well aware that his side have to improve massively if they are to go on and win the competition.
“We are really happy we are through,” he said. “It’s another step forward as a team. Hopefully we can learn some lessons as well.
“We have beaten two good teams in Benfica and Olympiacos, but the next one will be even tougher I think.”
It wasn’t like Arsenal didn’t have the chances to calm the nerves. In fact they had plenty, but a series of awful misses ensured the game was far more tense than it should have been.
Aubameyang was the chief culprit, missing a golden chance in either half and seeing another close-range effort kept out by Olympiacos keeper Jose Sa.
Nicolas Pepe also should have scored and one incident, when his goal-bound shot deflected over after hitting Emile Smith Rowe’s face, summed up Arsenal’s night.
They made it far more difficult than they should have. But the important thing is they are still alive to fight another day.