Mikel Arteta fielded a strong side in his first European game as Gunners boss, but they struggled to break their opposition down for much of the game.
Alexandre Lacazette couldn’t put Arsenal ahead in the first half, despite being played in by Gabriel Martinelli.
The Frenchman made amends decisively later on, though, tapping in from close range in a game where chances were few and far between.
Here are five things we learned from tonight’s game.
Lacazette is capable of playing through poor form
Eighteen-year-old Martinelli set up a wonderful chance for Lacazette in the first half. The Lacazette of a year ago would have probably buried it. This one, low on confidence having scored one in his last nine, finished meekly wide. In the second period, when sent through, he looked desperately for a foul when a shot was on in the box.
The Frenchman is clearly not without talent, but has also been a problem for Arsenal. Many suggested he could do with a spell out of the firing line for his own benefit, but also for his side’s. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has always been a more reliable source of goals and destructive threat for oppositions to handle, and arguably should be treated as such by his manager.
But Lacazette, to his credit, kept making runs and eventually took his clearest chance when presented with it by Bukayo Saka. Lesser players might have hid completely.
Guendouzi-Arteta relationship thaws
Matteo Guendouzi did not make the Arsenal bench as Mikel Arteta’s side thrashed Newcastle 4-0 last Sunday, but the Frenchman started away in Greece. The duo’s relationship reportedly soured during a recent trip to Dubai, as the 20-year-old midfielder allegedly rowed with Arteta and his coaching staff both on the training ground, and later at the team hotel.
Although Lucas Torreira was out injured and Mesut Ozil left at home for personal reasons, Arteta could still have opted for Dani Ceballos or Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the middle, both of whom started on the bench.
Guendouzi was industrious, visibly putting in a shift off the ball throughout his 90 minutes on the pitch. It wasn’t a vintage performance, and Joe Willock caught the eye more, but it will have been enough to go some way to returning to Arteta’s good books as the season nears its climax.
Arteta is taking the Europa League seriously
With an important match against Everton coming up on Sunday, Mikel Arteta could have been forgiven for rotating his side. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer rested David De Gea, Fred, Bruno Fernandes and Aaron Wan-Bissaka as Manchester United drew 1-1 with Club Brugge earlier this evening.
But instead the Spaniard picked near enough a first-choice starting XI, even including goalkeeper Bernd Leno, who has historically watched this competition from the sidelines. This was Arteta’s European bow as a manager, and the first real indication of how seriously he will take Europe’s second-tier competition.
The answer seems to be ‘very’, and understandably so. Arsenal are among the favourites to win the tournament, which will see them qualify for next year’s Champions League if they do so. With the Gunners currently sitting 10th in the Premier League, and few serious threats dropping down into the competition from the Champions League group stage, that’s not an opportunity to be sniffed at.
Arsenal are resolute again on the road
Arsenal have won one game away from home in the Premier League since the opening day of the season, at strugglers West Ham. The Gunners’ vulnerability on the road has been a long-term fundamental issue stretching back to Arsene Wenger’s time as manager.
Olympiacos’ Karaiskakis Stadium generates a fearsome atmosphere and those fans had seen their team win their last eight in a row at home. The hosts had plenty of joy early on, but Arsenal remained resilient under pressure.
That speaks to a change of mentality, even in the formative stages of Arteta’s time at the Emirates. His side are understandably not yet fully formed in the former midfielder’s image, but are doing a lot of the basics better when challenged.
They ultimately secured a win that did not always look likely on a potentially tricky night in Greece.
Valbuena can still roll back the years
Matthieu Valbuena has always been a curiously enigmatic footballer. Standing at less than five-and-a-half feet tall, he has invariably had the ability to define games or be lost within them. In the first five minutes alone, it was the 35-year-old, born just two years after Arteta, causing Arsenal a multitude of difficulties. Valbuena tested Leno with a volley that displayed a typical surfeit of technique, then later put in a perfectly taken ball that could have easily provoked an opener. He was a consistent thorn in makeshift right-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ side, as Olympiacos looked to regularly attack down their left, and nearly helped open the scoring with a curling free-kick that Leno spilled late on.
In an eclectic career, Valbuena has bounced from France to Ukraine and back, before heading for Turkey then Greece, all the while still capable of technical wizardry. He proved tonight that he’s as skilful as ever.