Mikel Arteta will, one way or another, show his true credentials to be a top boss at a top club in the coming days and weeks at Arsenal. The Spanish head coach at the Emirates Stadium suffered his first major blow as the manager of the Gunners as the north London giants crashed out of the Europa League to a very ordinary, yet spirited it has to be said, Olympiakos outfit last night. The defeat was horrible in the way it was inflicted with a last-gasp goal handing the Greeks a 2-1 win on the night and it meant they were the ones progressing through the last 32 round thanks to the away goal rule.
It had looked like the home side had gotten out of jail when, with five minutes remaining of the second period of extra time, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored an incredible overhead volley to make it 1-1 and give Arsenal a 2-1 lead overall. But, incredibly, the visitors netted a winner. Arsenal’s game management for the remaining three minutes was simply awful. All they needed to do was keep the ball but keeper Bernd Leno gave away a needless corner and the visitors scored the crucial goal.
The defeat means yet another potential trophy is now out of the grasp of the club but, perhaps more significantly, it means another door closes in the quest to attain Champions League football next season; the winners of the Europa League get passage into the elite competition in Europe. It looks very unlikely that Arsenal will be able to get in to the top four — top five if Manchester Coty are indeed barred from the competition for financial irregularities.
Arteta picked arguably the strongest team possible for the tie but it wasn’t a good display from the Gunners and some observers have suggested that, given the weariness of certain players in the 3-2 Premier League win over Everton last Sunday, perhaps fresh legs were needed. Even when it was apparent that players such as Alex Lacazette were misfiring and looked leggy, the Arsenal coach failed to make early substitutions. It meant live wire striker Gabi Martinelli was left to on the bench until late on when many felt his energy would have delivered a huge boost to the Gunners going forward.
Yet, however you want to look at it, the defeat is a costly one on a playing level and financially. The loss now brings into sharp focus the game at League One Portsmouth on Monday night in the fifth round of the FA Cup. It remains the only competition Arsenal can now win — and whereas last night was seen as a priority the emphasis will shift to the match at Fratton Park.
Keen observers will be looking at Arteta to rally his troops to bounce back. A defeat against the lower league south coasters will be devastating. Arteta knows this. Watch this space.