10th December 2015: Giroud treble topples Olympiacos to send us through

Evening all. So Arsenal, a significantly under-strength Arsenal, traveled to Olympiacos last night, a team who’d won five and drawn the other one of their last six matches against English opposition on home soil, and won 3-0 thanks to Olivier Giroud’s first-ever hat-trick for the club.

Hands up who saw that result coming? I certainly didn’t, not such a comprehensive victory anyway, but Petr Cech says the Arsenal squad themselves most certainly did. He said:

Well, we could! (see the win coming) We were searching for it and we knew if we played our game, if we have a great team performance and great individual performances then we will have a chance, and we did say exactly that. The first goal was important because going 1-0 ahead, they knew that one goal would not take us through and were holding back as one goal can kill the game for them. So there was pressure from both sides and we managed to get the better side of that pressure ourselves. The second goal was obviously an important point in the game and we knew that we would be able to do it.

Arsene Wenger had spoken before the game about his side being prepared for any eventuality over the course of the 90 minutes but as it transpired, there were no complications to proceedings as far as we were concerned as in the end, we killed the game off with plenty of time to spare.

The boss made one change to the starting line-up from Saturday’s win over Sunderland; Theo Walcott came in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to start on the right-hand side of our attack. Against the Black Cats, Joel Campbell started on the right before swapping flanks with the Ox and went on to get our opener from a left-wing position. But last night, the Costa Rican made the reverse journey, starting on the left before swapping with Theo and both players came to life after that switch.

The game began with the home side on the attack but we grew into the game and took the lead around the half-hour mark. Mesut Ozil, running away from goal, spun and placed a typically inch-perfect pass through to Aaron Ramsey on the left. The Welshman crossed and Giroud guided a header towards the near-post which their ‘keeper could only help into his own net.

We then had a couple of scares either side of the interval. Just before it, they almost equalised, and just after it, Giroud went down in agony clutching his right ankle deep in his own half after clearing the ball. For a few minutes it seemed as though our injury list would lengthen again, but thankfully, the Frenchman carried on after treatment and soon put us two ahead.

Ozil again provided the assist for the assist, this time lobbing a pass over towards Campbell on the right. He cushioned the dropping ball on his thigh and, under pressure, turned back on himself, produced a brilliant drag-back to evade his marker before playing a reverse pass neatly into Giroud’s path as the striker made a run into the box. The weight and direction of the pass by Campbell was so good, Olympiacos’ defenders were totally helpless and Giroud didn’t break stride in guiding a first-time finish low into the corner.

At that point, we were heading through to the knock-out stages but in the knowledge a goal for Olympiacos would see them through instead. So when our third arrived, not only did it effectively kill the contest in our favour, it also saved millions of Arsenal fans the world over from 20 minutes of gut-wrenching anxiety.

It came via a penalty which was given for handball after Nacho Monreal fired in a low shot from the left following a Hector Bellerin cross. Giroud stepped up, sent the keeper the wrong way and completed his hat-trick with a firm side-footed finish.

I think it’s a little unfair to highlight individuals for praise because it really was a collective team effort with everyone playing their part but given how far down the first-team pecking order Campbell was just a few weeks ago, I think he deserves a special mention. He was industrious going both ways, kept the ball well, plugged into our pass-and-move style with aplomb and produced an assist Ozil would have been proud of. If he carries on playing like last night, he’s first choice on the right as far as I’m concerned, even with everyone fit.

The draw for the next round takes place on Monday morning and regardless of who we get (please don’t let it be Barcelona), right now I’m just proud, if a little amazed, that we’ll be in it.

Til Friday, last-16ers.

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