Arsenal’s dispiriting season took a turn for the worse on Tuesday as the Gunners crashed to a 2-1 defeat at Olympiakos that ended their hopes of finishing top of Champions League Group B.
Arsene Wenger’s side desperately needed a victory in Athens to ease the sense of crisis enveloping the north London club after their worst start to a Premier League campaign in the Frenchman’s 16-year reign.
However, instead the Gunners squandered the lead secured by Tomas Rosicky as second half goals from Giannis Maniatis and then Kostas Mitroglou meant Arsenal had to settle for second place in the group behind Schalke 04.
Although Arsenal had already qualified for the last 16, this was a missed opportunity for Wenger’s men as Schalke’s draw at Montpellier meant a victory would have given the Gunners top spot and potentially an easier draw in the knockout stages.
It was the last thing Wenger needed after being subjected to a torrent of abuse from angry fans after Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat against Swansea City.
In the aftermath of that Swansea meltdown, Wenger had insisted Arsenal are in “fantastic shape,” but this lackluster loss was further evidence of a club sliding towards obscurity.
Wenger, feeling the heat from supporters after seven years without a trophy, made seven changes from Saturday, sending out a weakened team including forgotten men Marouane Chamakh and Sebastien Squillaci and a first start for 20-year-old left-back Jernade Meade.
And, in the circumstances, it was hardly surprising that the makeshift Gunners made the kind of nervous, error-strewn start that has blighted their play in recent weeks.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain teed up Gervinho for an early chance that the Ivorian forward wasted with a wayward finish.
Moroccan striker Chamakh has largely been discarded by Wenger over the last year and it was easy to see why as his poor control caused a pair of Arsenal attacks to peter out.
Aaron Ramsey should have opened the scoring when Chamakh nodded Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross into the Welsh midfielder’s path, but he completely miscued his shot and the ball bounced out of play off his shin.
However, the Gunners took the lead in the 38th minute. Gervinho was the provider, jinking past several defenders before cutting a pass back to Czech midfielder Rosicky, who drove a first-time shot past former Manchester United ’keeper Roy Carroll for his first goal since March.
Wenger was forced to send on Andrey Arshavin for the injured Rosicky at halftime and Russian was into the action early on as he headed over from Chamakh’s cross.
Arshavin went close on the hour with a powerful strike that Carroll pushed away at his near post, but Arsenal’s defensive frailties returned to haunt them as Olympiakos snatched an equalizer in the 65th minute.
There was a hint of controversy about the goal as Arsenal claimed Szczesny did not get a touch on a Paulo Machado header which resulted in the corner that produced the goal.
Arsenal failed to clear the set-piece and Djamel Abdoun hooked a cross back into the area, where Ramsey carelessly chested the ball towards Maniatis and the midfielder bundled his close-range shot past Szczesny.