LONDON (Reuters) – Arsenal put themselves in pole position to reach the Champions League knockout rounds with a 3-1 home victory in Group B over Olympiakos at the Emirates on Wednesday.
Goals either side of halftime from Gervinho and Lukas Podolksi set up the Gunners’ second successive win in the group before Aaron Ramsey came off the bench to score the third with the final move of the game.
Gervinho gave Arsenal the lead against the run of play in the 42nd minute with a well-placed shot but Olympiakos reached halftime deservedly all square when striker Kostas Mitroglou headed an equaliser.
Arsenal, who have never lost to Greek opposition at home, started the second half in more lively fashion and Lukas Podolski fired a second goal through a group of players after 56 minutes. Ramsey secured victory when he dinked the ball over keeper Balazs Megyeri in the fourth minute of extra time.
The victory margin disguised a patchy performance from Arsenal and Arsene Wenger’s call for a quick response from the loss to Chelsea the previous weekend appeared to have gone unheeded by his players as they were outshone by a creative Olympiakos side in the opening 45 minutes.
Quicker to the ball and more imaginative in possession, the Greek club grew in confidence with Paulo Machado at the heart of their best moments.
He gave notice of his ability to deliver dangerous balls into the area after 30 minutes when he cut the ball back for Mitroglou whose first time shot lacked the power to beat the diving Vito Mannone.
Santi Cazorla was Arsenal’s chief threat, the Spaniard forcing a fingertip save from Megyeri, but there was precious little else to excite the home crowd.
Arsenal were guilty of squandering possession on the rain-soaked green carpet and Olympiakos should have gone ahead when Machado lofted a half-volley over the bar from a superb cross from skipper Giannis Maniatis.
It was against the run of play when Arsenal went ahead. Podolski whipped a low cross into the area and when the ball broke to the in-form Gervinho and the Ivorian sent a shot beyond the reach of Megyeri.
Olympiakos’s response was almost instant as Leandro Greco’s cross was met with a textbook glancing header by Mitroglou that sped into the net past Mannone.
Wenger, who watched from the stands because of his UEFA ban, would have been happier with the second half performance.
The hosts were far livelier and Podolski made sure of the points with a shot through the legs of Balazs Megyeri after Olympiakos failed to clear their lines.
Olivier Giroud, who started on the bench, almost opened his Champions League account for Arsenal late on when his shot was deflected wide.
(Editing by John Mehaffey)
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