Olympiakos 0-3 Arsenal

A hat-trick from Olivier Giroud inspired Arsenal to victory and qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League as they claimed second spot in Group F at the expense of Olympiakos. Arsenal started on the back foot, with Olympiakos getting some early pressure. However, Arsenal came into the game and by the 15th minute were starting to pose a threat themself; they didn’t look back from there. Giroud’s first came after a wonderful reverse pass from Mesut Ozil, who found Aaron Ramsey to the left of the cross; Giroud headed Ramsey’s cross towards the near post and although Roberto got a hand to it, the ball bounced up, hit his head and went into the net.

Arsenal kept their lead until half time and extended it in the 49th minute; some excellent close control from Joel Campbell and an incisive pass allowed Giroud to fire into the far post, moments after it looked like he might have to come off injured. The second goal put Arsenal up into second in the group, but a goal from Olympiakos would have changed all that. Arsenal secured victory and qualification with a penalty in the 67th minute. Omar Elabdellaoui slid to stop a shot from Nacho Monreal and the ball hit his arm, with the referee (harshly, in my opinion) awarding a penalty. Giroud duly dispatched the spot kick, sending Roberto the wrong way.

Before the match, much was made of the dead ball play of Olympiakos, but only one corner forced a save from Petr Cech (and that was from a header that was straight at him). Many set pieces, particularly early on, seemed to either be played short or delivered outside the box.

Arsenal are now in the knockout stages for the 16th consecutive season and will await the draw with interest. They will not be able to play Manchester City, Chelsea or Bayern Munich, so will play either Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Wolfsburg or Zenit St Petersburg; I am sure that if given the choice, they would opt for Zenit, which appears to be the easiest draw on paper.

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Arsenal 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb

Arsenal set up a decisive final match against Olympiakos in Greece in Group F of the Champions League following a comfortable victory over Dinamo Zagreb. Arsenal were in control from the start, with Zagreb spending a lot of time in their half and unable to relieve the pressure for any extended period of time, but Arsenal were unable to create many chances as Eduardo remained untested. Arsenal broke the deadlock in the 29th minute when a cross from Alexis Sanchez was met by Mesut Ozil with a diving header from 6 yards out. Arsenal doubled their lead 5 minutes later when a poor Zagreb clearance was picked up by Monreal and he crossed for Sanchez to pass the ball into the far corner.

Arsenal remained in control through the second half, although Zagreb did create a few more chances. Sanchez added Arsenal’s third by rounding the keeper and firing into the roof of the net in the 69th minute. Arsenal came close to adding a fourth after a delightful chip from Sanchez, but Ozil’s deft backheader just went wide.

For Arsenal to qualify, they need to travel to Greece and beat Olympiakos, a tough ask but one they are capable of. Following the first fixture between the two (which Olympiakos won 3-2) means that Arsenal need to win by two goals (or one if they score three or more). Arsenal will need as good a performance as the one against Zagreb to qualify; if not, they will be competing in the Europa League.

Arsenal 2-0 Bayern Munich

Despite Bayern Munich having 70% possession, Arsenal recorded their first victory in Group F of the Champions League and kept their hopes of qualifying alive. Bayern Munich started well and Cech was forced into a good save following a one-two moving the ball into the Arsenal area. However, the best chance of the half fell to Walcott, who had a header magnificently saved by Manuel Neuer. Munich continued pressing in the second half, but struggled to create clear-cut chances. Giroud opened the scoring in the 76th minute after coming on as a substitute; Neuer came out to collect a free kick, missed the ball and it hit Giroud and went into the net. Ozil completed the scoring in stoppage time, although it initially appeared that Neuer had produced another wonderful save after clawing the ball out, but the official behind the goal gave it as a goal, which replays confirmed.

Bayern controlled the ball well, but struggled to create clear-cut chances. Cech made a couple of good saves, but most were routine. In contrast, Arsenal allowed Bayern to have the ball and looked to hit them on the break, using the pace of Walcott. The tactic worked well and it will be interesting to see if Arsenal take the same approach in Germany and if they do, if Bayern will have a way of breaking them down.

Aston Villa 0-4 Arsenal

Arsenal cruised to victory in the FA Cup Final against a lacklustre Aston Villa side at Wembley. Arsenal started the better of the two and remained in control throughout. Aston Villa were able to successfully break the game up at times with fouls, but Arsenal started to create chances as the game progressed. An excellent reflex save from Given whilst going the wrong way and a last-ditch block from Richardson kept the scores level until five minutes from half time, when a strongly hit left foot effort from Walcott opened the scoring.

Arsenal only had to wait for five minutes after the half time break to increase their lead, with a swirling, dipping shot from Alexis Sanchez from 30 yards out wrong-footing Given and going in off the underside of the bar. Mertesacker extended the lead with a free header (although it was far from clean) from a corner 10 minutes later and Giroud completed the rout with the final kick of the game with a deft flick at the near post as the Aston Villa defence switched off completely.

Arsenal fully deserved their victory, but Aston Villa posed no threat to them at all. Sherwood was entrusted with keeping them up and it appeared as though the final was an unnecessary distraction for players who didn’t seem to see the game as important and were always a step behind. Villa’s only tactic appeared to be getting the ball wide for a cross in to Benteke, but with Arsenal able to stop this by keeping the full backs pressed back, there appeared to be no other tactic and Villa struggled to pose a threat at all. There is clearly a lot of work for Aston Villa over the summer and for a second season, Arsenal have achieved qualification for the Champions League and won the FA Cup, although they are still a few players short of a genuine title challenge.

Arsenal 4-1 Liverpool

An enjoyable and open game saw Arsenal beat Liverpool 4-1 and move into second place in the Premiership. Arsenal started the game very well and created several good chances in the opening minutes as a result of the pressure they put on the Liverpool defenders and midfielders; they forced mistakes and intercepted passes out of defence well. Mignolet made a couple of good stops to keep the scores level and Liverpool in the game. As time progressed, Liverpool came into the game and started to create chances of their own, notably when a pass from Markovic was slightly too strong and ahead of Sterling for him to roll the ball into an empty net.

With ten minutes of the half to go, there had been lots of chances but no goals; by half time, Arsenal were winning 3-0. Arsenal right back Bellerin scored the first with a curled finish to the far post having been allowed to cut in on his left foot. Ozil scored the second a couple of minutes later with a free kick that went around the wall and past Mignolet, into the same corner that Bellerin had finished in minutes earlier. On the stroke of half time, Sanchez cut inside Toure and hit a fierce shot from 20 yards. Whilst the shot was fierce, it was very close to Mignolet, but somehow flew past him and into the net.

Liverpool brought on Sturridge at half time, taking off Markovic. I thought that this was a surprising substitution because Markovic had quite a good first half and was involved in several good Liverpool moves. Both teams continued to create chances, with Arsenal operating slightly more defensively than they had in the first half. Liverpool were awarded a penalty in the 75th minute when Bellerin, who had already been booked, brought Sterling down in the penalty area. Henderson scored from the spot, although Ospina looked disappointed at it having gone in after having got his right hand to it.

With Liverpool missing Skrtel and Gerrard through suspension, the last thing that they needed was another suspension, but they finished the match with ten men after Emre Can was sent off with around five minutes to go after picking up his second yellow card. With his name already in the book, a tackle from behind was always likely to lead to a red card, although he claim he slipped; the replay showed his left foot did appear to slip a little, but that still doesn’t explain why his right foot was so high. Giroud completed the scoring in the 90th minute with a fine curling effort into the far post that left Mignolet with no chance.

The result has seen Arsenal move into second place and four points behind leaders Chelsea, although whether they stay there will depend on whether Manchester City win their game at Crystal Palace on Monday. Liverpool remain in 5th, but could drop to 7th if Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur win their games. They are currently five points behind third, but could be eight points behind if both Manchester City and Manchester United win their games this weekend. With seven games left, it is difficult to see how they will now be able to finish in the top four this season.

Monaco 0-2 Arsenal

A 2-0 victory for Arsenal was not enough to see them progress to the next round of the Champions League as they went out on away goals with the aggregate score at 3-3.

Arsenal controlled most of the first half, with Monaco having very little time in possession and attacking. Despite the possession and control of the game that Arsenal had, they created few clear-cut chances and scored only once, with the goal featuring an element of luck; Giroud ran onto a good through-ball, but his initial shot hit the advancing keeper. A kind rebound saw the ball fall to him and he made no mistake, firing the ball into the roof of the net and beating defenders by the line. Arsenal were unlucky not to extend their lead further minutes later, when a sweetly struck shot from Welbeck on the edge of the area hit a prone defender who knew little about it; the ball could have gone anywhere, but ended up going out for a corner.

The second half saw the game continue in a similar manner, although Monaco had some better spells of possession and more attacking opportunities, especially as Arsenal pushed forwards in search of goals. Despite Arsenal’s control they could only score once more. A shot from Walcott hit the post and a Monaco defender rushed a clearance that fell to Ramsey, who steadied himself and fired into the corner of the net. Arsenal came close to adding a third minutes later with two players getting in each other’s way at the back post from a free kick, which was clawed off the line by the Monaco keeper.

Arsenal controlled most of the game, but fashioned few genuine chances. This has been a criticism of Arsenal in the past and until they can turn their possession into good opportunities (and be ruthless in taking them), I think that they will continue to struggle in big matches against strong opponents.