Wenger had one of his biggest challenges as Arsenal manager when his side travelled to Greece on Wednesday in need of a convincing win against Olympiacos in order to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League. The Gunners had lost their previous three final group game visits to the Karaiskakis Stadium outlining how difficult a task this could be with a victory better than 0-1 and 1-2 required after Arsenal lost three of their first four games in Group F. With so many key players out injured, there was a fitness boost with the return of Walcott to the starting line-up in the place of Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Campbell kept his place against the team he played on-loan with two seasons ago. Arsenal were slow to get going but finally carved open a good chance in the 25th minute from an unlikely source in the former of Flamini whose deflected shot hit the crossbar after he was found in the box by Campbell on the right, while Giroud had a header at the end of the same move but it was saved comfortably by the ‘keeper, Roberto. And Roberto had a hand, or a head, in Arsenal’s opener in the 29th minute when Ozil found Ramsey on the left with a lovely through ball and the Wales international crossed for Giroud to head just inside the near post only for the hapless ‘keeper to knock the ball onto his head and into the back of the net to make it 0-1.
The Gunners had to wait a few minutes into the second half for the crucial second goal when a ball over the top of the defence by Ozil found Campbell who cut back onto his left and played a diagonal ball through to Giroud who placed his shot across the ‘keeper and into the far corner of the net to make it 0-2. Cech was then called upon on a couple of occasions, most notably from a long-range effort by Fortounis in the 58th minute, which was curling into the net only for a strong hand by the Czech ‘keeper to force it wide. Giroud then had the opportunity to seal his hat-trick and qualification in the 67th minute when Monreal’s effort was handled in the box by Elabdellaoui and the French striker stepped-up and put Roberto the wrong way with a finish into the the bottom left-hand corner to make it 0-3. That victory earned the Gunners second place in Group F, six points behind winners Bayern, and they will now await the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League (match report).
There was some sad news earlier in the week when it was revealed that a lifelong supporter, 90-year-old Ernie Crouch, died while traveling to the Sunderland game and the club led the tributes to a man who went to his first Gunners game in 1934.
The Gunners had the chance to go top of the table when they travelled to Villa Park on Sunday to take on bottom side Aston Villa. It was an unchanged team for Arsenal and it was Walcott who won a penalty in the 8th minute when Hutton was adjudged to have dragged him down inside the box giving Giroud the chance to score his 50th Gunners goal from the penalty spot and he made no mistake by putting Guzan the wrong way and tucking his effort into the right-hand corner to make it 0-1. An excellent counter-attack made it 0-2 to Arsenal when Walcott played a through ball to Ozil and he played a pass across the box for an effective tap-in for Ramsey.
It was a relatively comfortable win for Arsenal in the end with Villa failing to threaten their goal, allowing Cech to equal the Premier League record for clean sheets.
The three points put the Gunners a point clear of Manchester City at the top, although the Foxes, who are only behind City on goal-difference in 3rd, have a chance to regain the lead when they play Chelsea on Monday. After what was described by Wenger as “a perfect week,” the Gunners now have plenty of time to prepare for the visit of Manchester City on Monday December 19th as they begin the busy Christmas season against one of their main rivals for the title.