Arsenal plumb the depths with Olympiakos horror show
David Ospina caps dreadful night for Arsene Wenger with own goal to leave Gunners facing Champions League exit
Arsenal 2 Olympiakos 3
It may have seemed like groundhog day for Arsenal as they were embarrassed in the Champions League by Olympiakos, but their latest European humiliation was surely their worst yet. Last season it was Monaco, a fortnight ago Dinamo Zagreb but the 3-2 defeat to Greek side Olympiakos plumbed new depths of ineptitude for Arsene Wenger's side.
Their defending was a disgrace, their industry appalling and their sharpness in front of goal a joke.
As for Olympiakos, they thought Christmas had come early as the Arsenal defence gift-wrapped the goals for their visitors. So much for being wary of Greeks bearing gifts.
Before last night's Group F encounter Olympiakos had lost all 12 of their away games against English teams in European competition, scoring just three goals and leaking 37 of their own. But 90 wretched minutes they doubled their tally to leave their hosts bottom of the group and in danger of failing to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League for the first time in 16 successive European campaigns.
Wenger has only himself to blame. For reasons best known to himself, he left Petr Cech on the bench and started the game with his second-choice goalkeeper David Ospina. As misjudgements go it was up there with England rugby captain Chris Robshaw's clanger against Wales at Twickenham last Saturday.
Ospina wasn't at fault for Olympiakos's opening goal on 33 minutes, the Colombian left stranded by Felipe Pardo's deflected shot off the heel of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but there was no doubt who was to blame for the visitors' second on 40 minutes, five minutes after Theo Walcott had equalised for Arsenal. Ospina appeared to have Kostas Fourtounis's inswinging corner from the right covered but in attempting to catch the ball he patted it down and over the goalline, his howler spotted by the fifth official behind the goal.
Arsenal got themselves back into the game midway through the second half when, after a period of sustained pressure, Theo Walcott's deft chipped cross was headed home by Alexis Sanchez. The Arsenal faithful roared, sensing the force was now with their team and a winner was coming. A winner did come, just 59 seconds later, but it was from the boot of Alfred Finnbogason as Olympiakos tore open the Arsenal defence with ease.
"We lacked quality defensive concentration," admitted Wenger. "We gave a lot and had 65 per cent possession. We feel guilty because we gave easy goals away."
The biggest post-match talking point, however, was the omission of Cech, signed for £10m from Chelsea in the summer because Wenger knew he needed a reliable keeper. Labelling the decision "a big mistake", former Arsenal striker turned BT Sport pundit Ian Wright, asked: "For somebody who's not playing often - and this is a must-win game - how can you put Ospina in goal? You've got to question the manager there."
Questioned about the inclusion of Ospina, Wenger told reporters: "That is a simple thing. David Ospina played 19 games last season and kept 14 clean sheets and last week he had a fantastic game. No keeper is mistake free, it could have happened to Petr Cech as well."
That blase answer is unlikely to appease the Arsenal fans, who now face the likelihood of spending the early part of 2016 trailing round the more remote footballing outposts of Europe in the Europa League, provided they can recover to finish third in their group.
"I make the decisions and selections for the team and I'm responsible for it," said Wenger when asked what the fans would make of Cech's omission. "I know many things that you don't know and that you ignore. You cannot select a team by using a poll and getting everyone's opinion before the game."
Ever the optimist, Wenger believes Arsenal can still qualify for the last 16 despite propping up Group F and with home and away games to come against Bayern Munich (who thrashed Dinamo Zagreb 5-0 on Tuesday night). "It puts us in a bad position but we are still in it," he said. "We have to think we can deal with Zagreb and Olympiakos and we need a result in our next game away from home against Bayern Munich."
Easier said than done.