5th May 2016: City team news + Lauren loves south Americans

Welcome back peeps. So City went out of the Champions League with a whimper in the end last night, as Real Madrid comfortably held onto their early lead to set up the second all-Madrid final in three years. Here’s hoping they’re just as lethargic and unadventurous when they host us on Sunday.

And as we build up to our penultimate game of the campaign, Arsene Wenger has revealed the latest team news in his usual Thursday update on the official site. He said:

From the squad that played against Norwich last Saturday, we have lost Per Mertesacker. Per is out for the remaining two matches with a hamstring injury. Everyone else from last week’s squad is fit and available for selection.

As expected then. I’m sure we’ll get more details on the selection front for the City game when Arsene speaks to the press tomorrow morning, but for now, some words from former Arsenal Invincible Lauren Bisan Etame Mayer, on where his favourite strikers tend to hail from and what he thinks Arsenal need to do to improve their chances of success. The Cameroonian said:

Sometimes a charismatic figure in the team can affect the rest of the players. I like South American strikers – Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain – players that always give full commitment. (Luis) Suarez, too. He scores goals, he comes back to defend, he’s got ambition and hunger – the player has to be charismatic so that the players in the dressing room look up to him like he’s an icon. We have to mix up technical quality with physical presence in some departments. I’ve watched many Arsenal games, I’ve been to the Emirates Stadium many times. We have to change the style of players in certain positions – centre-back, in the middle – we need more balance between physical and technical players. In the last few years we haven’t done that and it would be something that could improve the team. We need to buy a striker – I’m not saying that Giroud isn’t good enough – he’s done a good job, but sometimes you need a charismatic figure.

I for one wouldn’t argue with a word of that (not that I’d argue with Lauren about anything!). Our former right-back’s spot on with his assessment that we could do with a bit of charisma, class, brilliance – whatever you want to call it – at the tip of our attack and I share his like of south American strikers. The only trouble is, if you go through the top ones – Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Luis Suarez etc – they’re either unavailable or about to pass their prime.

Finally for tonight, Mohamed Elneny has been talking to the Arsenal Magazine about the family feeling at the club and how improving his English has helped him to settle in London. He said:

I feel like I have joined a big family rather than a football club. Everyone has been so welcoming, friendly and helpful ever since my arrival, and this has made my life a lot easier and has helped me adapt quickly to life at this club. The members of the family complete each other, from Arsène Wenger to the ground-staff. Even the club’s chairman is part of this family. I like to speak and joke with everyone and they all treat me the same. I consider them all as brothers and I am really happy about life here at Arsenal. Everybody around me speaks English and this helps me to improve my language skills. It’s completely different from Switzerland where they tend to speak German most of the time and only a few spoke English. I think people around me began to notice that I’m improving day after day. To be honest improving my English helped me a lot to settle in.

Two player of the month awards in succession offer an indication of how well Elneny’s been playing recently and given he’s still new to Arsenal and England, that’s not bad going from the Egyptian.

Remarkably, he already seems to have usurped Francis Coquelin as a first pick but with major reinforcement of the central midfield position expected over the summer, whether Elneny remains a starter longer-term is still far from certain. So far though, the former Basel man’s barely put a foot wrong and long may that continue.

Back Friday

26th February 2016: Wenger on Manchester United

Happy Friday. Following two consecutive disappointing results in cup competitions, we return to Premier League action on Sunday against Manchester United in a fixture Arsene Wenger today labelled ‘special’.

Not ‘special’ in the sense that the game will be a Portuguese, loudmouthed, bus-parking, hypocritical bellend, but special because it’s a meeting of two teams with a rich mutual history, and who shared a fierce rivalry as they dominated English football for the first decade or so of Arsene’s tenure at Arsenal.

Speaking at his pre-match press conference this morning, the boss said:

Yes [it still has an aura] because Manchester United are a big club, Old Trafford is a special place and I believe for every club it remains a special fixture. Against Arsenal, the United fans and players will be up for it. In one week all has changed. I didn’t believe that they would lose against Shrewsbury and Midtjylland. Old Trafford is always a difficult place to go and even if they had lost against Midtjylland, I would have said that it is a difficult game.

All of the above accepted, this has to be the first time, certainly in my living memory at least, of us going to Old Trafford and being widely expected to take all three points. I mean, we may have failed to win our last two games without scoring a goal and we may have a dysfunctional central midfield, but Manchester United are a relative shambles at the moment, regardless of their big win in Europe on Thursday.

If I was to go through the United squad and try to pick their best players, David de Gea, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial would certainly be on the list, but all five are either already ruled out, or serious doubts, to face us on Sunday. Which means a squad that’s been struggling all season and currently has various other players on the sidelines, is stretched to the point of having to blood a bunch of untested academy hopefuls.

Yet the boss maintains his side will need to produce a ‘special’ performance against Louis van Gaal’s men, and cited the 3-0 spanking we gave them at Emirates stadium in October as a kind of blueprint for Sunday. He said:

If you look all the titles of Manchester United, to beat them at Old Trafford it needs to always be special. They have never won many more games than us away from home in their whole history. There are a lot of ingredients [for success] in there. We had a good performance against them in October. I think we took them a little bit by surprise and we played at a high pace from the start and closed down well early on. We need to play at that pace again because our game is based on pace and speed, and if we don’t have that I don’t see how we can win there. We have to raise our level at the right moment. You want to raise your level and after, individually, the players will benefit from that. When we attack well, Alexis will be very dangerous so we have to focus on attacking well together. After that it’s important to remember that we worked very hard to be in this position. At half time against Leicester, we were eight points behind Leicester. Today we are two points behind. We have to take advantage of that.

Meanwhile, Per Mertesacker has also been remembering our emphatic win over United earlier this season, highlighting our game-plan that day and suggesting what will be needed to secure another win over them this weekend. The defender told Arsenal Player:

I think we came out really strong, trusted in ourselves, nicked balls from them in their final third and then broke them down. It was remarkable how we played and how we reacted. We were really active from the start, pressed them high and tried to get the ball as quickly as possible. It completely worked out. It will be a different game this time but I want to see the same effort from our side. That was our plan, to get the ball early, so the distance between where we got the ball and the goal was short. We are dangerous when we win the ball early. I think that’s something we need to emphasise. I would say we are more comfortable going there, or away from home in general, and performing well and to our best [than before]. We need a good performance in Manchester, there’s no doubt about it.

Obviously United’s generally poor form and performances this season are offset a little by our own recent struggles and in particular, the absence of Santi Cazorla, who was outstanding when the two sides last met.

Regular readers will know just how highly I rate our little Spaniard and how much I think he’s missed in the middle of the park right now, but his performance in that 3-0 win encapsulated his brilliance for me.

In the build up to our first goal, eventually flicked home at the near post with aplomb by Alexis, Cazorla picked up possession from one of our centre-halves and toyed with Bastian Schweinsteiger, rolling his foot over the ball and teasing his opponent before drawing him in and releasing it to a team-mate to set us on the attack. And for our second, Cazorla’s control, elusiveness and vision in releasing the ball to Alexis under pressure from Rooney was as brilliant as it was effortlessly efficient.

But aside from those two bits of play, Cazorla ran the game for us alongside Francis Coquelin and played a pivotal role in us dominating the ball and producing fluent football, particularly in that devastating opening 20 minutes in which we scored all three of our goals. We won’t have that level of control on proceedings on Sunday in his absence in my opinion, because the under-rated, over-worked and misunderstood Aaron Ramsey will play in his place, but perhaps we can find another way to be just as effective. I hope so.

Back tomorrow with a preview.

14th December 2015: Barcelona drawn, Giroud 50-up and Ramsey on being top

So the draw for the last 16 of this season’s Champions League was made this morning and we’ve been paired with reigning champions Barcelona. Splendid.

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar and co will strut their stuff in north London on Tuesday, Febraury 23rd, before we head to Camp Nou for the return leg on Wednesday, March 16th. It’s obviously the most difficult draw we could possibly have gotten and the Catalans will be huge favourites, but as we proved in the home leg of our tie in 2011, with a little luck, we can beat Barca.

Whether we can go to their ground and get a result is another matter, but we do have a far better team, in my opinion at least, than we did for the last couple of ties between the sides. That said, you could argue with the likes of Neymar and Suarez replacing David Villa and Pedro, they’re improved too. Individually at least, if not, necessarily, collectively.

By the end of February, we should have the likes of Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck available too, perhaps one or both of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla, and maybe even a shiny new recruit or two from the winter window, so who knows what our side will look like when we play the Catalans.

Anyway, regardless of what happens, it’s always exciting to see how we fare against the very best the club game has to offer, and Barcelona are still some distance better than the next-best in Europe in my opinion – Bayern Munich. After that though, I’d put us at least on par with the rest of the continent’s finest when we’re fully fit, so if we can somehow conjure an aggregate win over Barcelona, who knows …

Back to  reality, and yesterday’s game for now though, and a couple of our players have been to the official club site. First up, it’s Olivier Giroud, who after opening the scoring with his 50th Premier League goal for the club from the penalty spot at Villa Park, told Arsenal Player:

I’m pleased with that (50 league goals for Arsenal) and I don’t want to stop here. I tried to do a good job for my team-mates today and I did well with the penalty. I was the one who had to take it. We were very good on the counter-attack with Theo and Mesut and (got) another clean sheet, so it was a really good day. It is a fantastic week. We did a great job in the Champions League and we really wanted to finish the week with a win and to be top of league before Leicester’s game against Chelsea. It is nice and hopefully we can have a great game against Manchester City on Monday. I’m very pleased with the performance today and we are in a great position and even if everything was not perfect, we had a lot of chances today which is good for me and the team.

For a little context, Giroud became the third-fastest Arsenal player to reach half a century of Premier League goals for the club behind only Thierry Henry and Ian Wright, having achieved the feat in one game fewer than Dennis Bergkamp managed to:

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So the Frenchman’s in pretty good company (except for the turncoat at the bottom there), even if he took considerably more games to get to the 50-mark than messrs Wright and Henry.

Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey, who sourced and scored our second against against Villa on Sunday, has been discussing being top of the table, and his return to his favoured central midfield position, telling Arsenal Player:

It was nice to be top of the league – maybe for a short period of time – it puts a bit of pressure on other teams. But it’s a busy period and we have to remain consistent through that and see where we are in the new year. I believe there are a lot more teams now capable of taking points off each other. We’ve been shown that this season with some of the results. But it’s important for us to look after ourselves and get through this busy period and see where we are in January. I’m really enjoying it (playing centrally). That’s where I feel I play my best football and can have an effect on the game. I’ve scored a couple and had a couple of assists as well in the three games I’ve played there. So I’m delighted with the way things are going in there, hopefully I can continue to do well there.

It’s hard to argue that Ramsey is at his best in the middle but whether Arsenal are at their best as a team with him there is another matter. Whilst it’s great to have the Welshman’s energy and goal-threat in the middle, we undoubtedly have less control and poorer ball-circulation compared to when Cazorla plays there. and against the better teams, my fear is that we’ll rue not having our little Spaniard fit and available.

A specialist defensive midfielder who can also distribute the ball like Santi would be the ideal type to partner Aaron, but who that player is and whether we can find and sign him in the January market is fanciful, if he even exists. We need a Sergio Busquets with pace, a Mikel Arteta who can run, an Andrea Pirlo who can defend. Suggestions on a postcard addressed to Highbury House or London Colney …

And that’s that for another day. See you tomorrow.

13th December 2015: Giroud and Ramsey send Arsenal top

Evening all. So goals by Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey secured Arsenal a 2-0 win over Aston Villa today, to send us top of the league and set us up very nicely indeed for the busy festive period to come.

The win at Villa Park capped a brilliant week or so for the club, in which we’ve managed three wins from three games, scored eight goals and conceded none. Not bad for a team missing several key players through injury. Not bad at all. And the cherry on our pre-Christmas schedule cake comes in the form of defeat for Manchester United yesterday and Tottenham today, plus dropped points for Liverpool too.

As expected, Arsene Wenger kept an unchanged starting line-up from last Wednesday’s win at Olympiacos but this time Theo Walcott started, and stayed, playing from the left flank with Joel Campbell on the other side. And after an opening period in which the hosts looked full of zest without creating anything of note, Mathieu Flamini clipped a delightful ball over their rampaging, and constantly-remonstrating, right-back Alan Hutton for Theo to latch onto.

Usually in a position like that, Theo tends to shy away from physical contact but not today. He showed great strength in a shoulder-to-shoulder with Hutton, bullied his way past his marker and intelligently cut across him only for the Scot to pull at Theo’s arm and concede as clear a penalty as you’ll ever see.

For a couple of moments it seemed, quite incredibly, that the referee would wave play on, but thankfully either his brain caught up with his eyes, or he received a little tip off via his headphones because he pointed to the spot. Giroud stepped up and confidently sent the keeper the wrong way to put us one-nil up with just eight minutes on the clock.

Half an hour later we doubled our lead in a move started and finished by Ramsey. Having won the ball in midfield with a well-timed tackle, the Welshman found Walcott who took his time and with team-mates pouring forward ahead of him, threaded the ball carefully through to Mesut Ozil. The German bamboozled Joleon Lescott with a classy body swerve, drew the keeper out towards him, before squaring the ball left to Ramsey who gleefully stroked it into an empty net.

The second half was fairly uneventful and I thought we looked a little jaded physically, which was far from surprising given we traveled to Greece during the week. The boss clearly saw the drop off in intensity too and reacted by making a double substitution, replacing Walcott and Campbell with Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain just after the hour mark. He then gave Ozil a little breather with five minutes to go, sending on Calum Chambers in his place to add a little more ballast to central midfield.

After the game, Arsene gave his take on proceedings to Arsenal Player, saying:

I’m very proud and happy of the spirit we show. That’s what people want to see. There’s a strength and togetherness coming out of the team that people feel and that’s the biggest satisfaction. It’s the best basis to make results. It was a convincing performance overall. In the first half we dominated the situation very well and got two goals. In the second half it was a bit more difficult physically because we gave a lot on Wednesday night and you could see that the legs were a bit tired. But overall we have shown maturity, didn’t give a goal away and came home with what I believe was a convincing win. It’s a great week – Sunderland, Olympiacos and today. We’ve scored eight goals and I think it was a fantastic week. I would like to give credit to the team for their mental approach to the games. It’s absolutely fantastic.

So we sit merrily top of the table at least until after tomorrow evening’s game between Leicester and Chelsea, and we can now look ahead to City’s visit to Emirates stadium a week tomorrow off the back of another win, another clean sheet and with the possibility, however slight at this stage, that our mercurial Chilean Alexis Sanchez might be back from his hamstring injury to face Manuel Pellegrini’s side.

Til tomorrow, league-leaders.

12th December 2015: Premier League Preview – Remi reunion awaits at Villa Park

Welcome back. Signed on the same day as Patrick Vieira back in 1996, Remi Garde is famously one of Arsene Wenger’s first two signings for the club, but tomorrow at Villa Park, old allegiances will be forgotten as he faces us as a manager for the first time.

Garde enjoyed a fairly unremarkable three-year stay with the Gunners after signing from Strasbourg, but did win the Double with us in 1998, though as a bit-part player. He made 31 appearances in the red and white of Arsenal before injury forced him to retire in 1999. Anyway, tomorrow he’s no different to any other opposition manager, in the sense that I want us to give his team a good spanking.

In terms of how we’ll line-up, we should have the same squad that traveled to Greece for Wednesday night’s win over Olympiacos and as such, I’m expecting an unchanged starting line-up. If, for instance, Olivier Giroud’s ankle isn’t feeling 100 percent after he seemed to strain it early in the second half in Athens, we do of course have the option of bringing in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, moving Theo Walcott up front and giving the Frenchman a breather.

As for the importance of the game, with Leicester City not playing until they host relegation-haunted Chelsea on Monday night, we can go top with a win, displacing Manchester City, who climbed above the Foxes thanks to a jammy last-minute winner against Swansea this afternoon. Seeing as Manchester United lost today, we can also open up a four-point gap to fourth-place.

But the boss thinks only after the festive period will the table start to indicate which teams are likeliest to last the pace in the title race. He said:

I think you always see the real trend after Christmas. Of course every year you have a surprising team who is in the top four. Last year it was West Ham, this year it is Leicester. The question is always can they maintain their run. It looks like Leicester are producing the consistency and quality. The number of goals they score indicates to you, yes, they will remain up there and you have to consider them now as fighting for the Premier League.

And on tomorrow’s opponents Aston Villa, as well as the need for ‘focus’ from his own side, Arsene told Arsenal Player:

They have  Sinclair, they have Jordan Ayew, who can score goals like Gestede. They are a complete team. Vertout plays quite well, Gueye plays. They have young prospects like Grealish. I think there is a good basis for Remi Garde to work on and to stabilise the team. For us, after Wednesday night, it’s important that we straight away have a focus. I’m highly focused on the Premier League and I want us to manage to go from one competition to the other. That’s a sign of maturity as well.

Last season we beat Villa 3-0 away, then 5-0 at home before our 4-0 win in May’s FA Cup Final at Wembley, but this is a much-changed side we’ll face. They have a horde of new players, a new manager and despite being bottom of the league following a disastrous first few months of the season, they did manage a 1-1 draw at Southampton last time out, with many observers reporting they looked much improved. So tomorrow may not be as straightforward for us as it would appear looking at the standings.

That said,  I’m expecting nothing less than three points, Arsenal topping the table for at least 24 hours and then a full week to rest and recuperate before we welcome City to Emirates Stadium a week on Monday. Make it happen lads …

Back post-match.

COYG!

11th December 2015: Injury latest, Welbeck on recovery and Wenger on Giroud

Happy Friday folks. Arsene Wenger held his usual pre-match press conference this morning, as we prepare for Sunday’s trip to Aston Villa, and revealed the latest team news ahead of the game.

We have no fresh injury concerns following Wednesday night’s win over Olympiacos, but none of our injured players are yet ready to return either. The closest, says the boss, are Mikel Arteta and Alexis Sanchez but the others are some way off a comeback yet. He said:

We came back Thursday morning, so we will see the players today. We have no injuries after the game. (Alexis Sanchez and Mikel Arteta are) short-term injuries, neither will be available for Sunday. No Arteta and no Alexis – who is the shortest one. The others will be (available) after Christmas. If you ask me if he (Jack Wilshere) will be fit before the end of December, no chance. He (Tomas Rosicky) is quite positive. He is running outside but not ready yet. End of January.

There were reports a few weeks ago that Wilshere had provisionally penciled in the Boxing Day trip to Southampton as his comeback game but the boss’ update today was pretty emphatic in ruling the midfielder out until the New Year, so that’s obviously disappointing, particularly with Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla ruled out until March at the earliest.

Our only other ‘long-termer’ is Danny Welbeck of course, and there was no word from the boss on the former Manchester United man’s likely return date from a knee injury which had ruled him out for the last seven months or so. But the player himself spoke to Arsenal Player recently, discussing his injury lay-off and also his ‘honour’ at being able to cite both Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger as managers he’s played under. He said:

Both (managers) have that presence and both are legends in the modern game. What can I say? They have won plenty of trophies between them and I have worked under Sir Alex and Arsène Wenger and it is a great honour to say that, but I want to be the best that I can be. I definitely feel free. Before we go out against a team we have analysed before hand (Arsène Wenger) gives the team a few pointers of what he wants us to be doing on the pitch and the lads stick to that. But he also gives you the freedom to express yourself and play the way you want to play. It is my first injury that has kept me out for so long. I had my operation and once that is sorted you can be out for a few more months. For the first month, in a leg brace, not being able to do anything, on a machine six hours a day, it was very difficult. But you have to try and see the positives. Luckily I had my family around me, my friends came down to London and I had my brothers. It was good to have people around me and have that support. You wake up in the morning and know you have double sessions in the gym it is hard but you have to see the positive side and I have learnt a lot more being injured on how to look after your body and prevent injuries. I have to see the positive side and hopefully when I come back, I will be flying.

I have to say Welbeck’s return is the one I’m most looking forward to, simply because I rate him higher than most others seem to and as Arsenal fans we’ve not seen much of him since he joined. He made an impressive start to his Arsenal career, then got injured, came back briefly, got injured again, and we’ve now not seen him play since April. Obviously I’m not saying he’s more important than Sanchez or Cazorla or Coquelin, because he’s not, but I genuinely think he could develop into a prolific striker for us given time to learn under Arsene and providing he can stay injury free.

Speaking of strikers, our current incumbent Olivier Giroud will go into the game at Villa having just scored his first-ever hat-trick for the club, in the most important game of our season so far, and Arsene discussed his fellow countryman’s qualities earlier today, saying:

He has gone through this calendar year with ups and downs but overall it is typical Olivier Giroud. That means when it doesn’t work, he puts effort in. I believe recently he has come back with an improved game and with his finishing. Wednesday was one of his best performances on all fronts, I must say. If you look at his record, I believe he has special qualities that are difficult to find. You want him to be efficient as well. Where he has improved a lot is his link play with the other players, and that’s very important in our team. He’s a guy who wants always to improve and he has a positive mentality, and a strong one. You want him to be efficient as well. Where he has improved a lot is his link play with the other players, and that’s very important in our team. He’s a guy who wants always to improve and he has a positive mentality, and a strong one. I think that’s why he has come back in a very strong way. We are in a job where you have to accept that in every game, you are questioned. In his job, as a centre forward, [it’s] even more. If you don’t score for three games, you’re questioned again. That’s part of the job. If you look at the number of games and the number of goals, you have to give him credit. He’s not only a goalscorer, he’s a guy who puts work in for the team. I think he’s among the best strikers in Europe.

I really like Giroud and appreciate what he brings to our side, but let’s not get carried away, hey. He’s not in Robert Lewandowski’s class, for instance, and probably never will reach that kind of level given his age, but than he’s also not a clumsy lump like some would have you believe. He’s a very, very effective lone striker for us but one I still think can be improved on.

Anyway, given he’s just bagged a treble and played brilliantly to win us a crucial game, perhaps now’s not the best time to talk about his perceived defects as a striker or potential replacements. I’ll just say that with him, Theo Walcott and Welbeck all fit, I’m actually quite content with our striking options, especially with the mercurial talent of Sanchez backing them up from the left. Defensive midfield is where I’d like more options …

Back with a preview of the Villa game at some stage tomorrow.

Have a good one.

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.