All the talking points from Arsenal’s 3-1 victory over Olympiacos at the Georgios Karisakis Stadium in the Europa League Round of 16 first leg
Willian justifies Arteta’s faith
It seems that no matter what side Mikel Arteta picks before an Arsenal match, some section of the fanbase is going to be unhappy.
The two main areas of discontent on Thursday evening centred around the decisions to select Hector Bellerin and Willian.
The Spaniard has seen his position come under threat due to the good form of Cedric in recent weeks, while Willian remains an unpopular figure among Gunners supporters who would rather see Nicolas Pepe given a chance.
But on the night the duo proved their manager’s faith right.
Bellerin was more of an attacking threat than we’ve become accustomed to in recent weeks and months frequently getting beyond Bukayo Saka and providing good delivery that may well have yielded an assist for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were it not for an excellent save from Jose Sa.
Even more impressive though was Willian who goes from strength to strength as confidence begins to seep through his veins once more.
A fourth assist in as many games at a crucial time in the match swung the tie in Arsenal’s favour and may well be looked back upon as a turning point in Arsenal’s season.
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He is pressing more than before while also providing an end product that the Gunners would have hoped for after his arrival from Chelsea last summer.
His tally for assists now stands at seven in an Arsenal shirt which is more than any of his teammates and interestingly one more than Mesut Ozil managed in his final two seasons at the Emirates. A sign perhaps of more to come from the Brazilian.
Vital to Willian’s resurgence though has been the man behind him Kieran Tierney.
The Scottish left back’s boundless energy and desire to get beyond his winger to put in crosses is everything you want from the modern full back, mixed in with the attitude and determination that would have won him countless fans in the days of old.
He had Kenny Lala beat for the whole evening and managed to consistently create chances for his teammates, the most presentable of which was a cross in the opening two minutes that Martin Odegaard should really have put away.
It is this aspect to his game that often gets lost in the love for an everyday hero who turns up for games with his possessions in a Tesco’s carrier bag and wears a short-sleeved t-shirt even when playing in the snow.
As per Orbinho Tierney has actually created more chances (35), than any Arsenal player from open play this season.
It’s a statistic that should embarrass his Gunners teammates, not only because of the fact that he has missed months of the campaign through injury, but also because – and this cannot be stressed enough – he is a left back!
He has perhaps been a little quiet in recent Premier League matches against Burnley and Leicester as he tries to find his feet again after a knee problem that kept him out for just shy of four weeks, but against Olympiacos he was back at his rampaging best.
There is no one like him in the Arsenal squad and Mikel Arteta will be hoping he can stay fit now for as long as possible.
Arteta’s challenge for Odegaard
Since his arrival at Arsenal Martin Odegaard has began to turn heads with a series of impressive performances.
Despite Martin Keown’s seeming one-man crusade to keep him out of the Gunners line up, the Norwegian goes from strength to strength and with a 30-yard screamer he showed a side to his game that not many knew he had in his locker.
The ‘screamer’ status of the strike may slightly be impacted by the fact that goalkeeper Jose Sa flapped at it to such an extent that form Arsenal defender Sokratis threw his hands up in disbelief, but to have the confidence to take the strike on show’s the confidence Odegaard is starting to feel at his new club.
The player himself was relatively modest when asked about the powerful strike.
“I think I wanted to get a shot on goal and luckily I had a good hit and it went in,” he said with his characteristic understatedness.
But speaking after the match Mikel Arteta challenged the Real Madrid loanee to continue to offer more of this end product to his game if he is ever to fulfil the potential that saw him rated one of the highest profile youngsters in world football not so long ago.
“He can do that,” said Arteta of Odegaard’s goal. He needs to click by doing that. The same with Emile, the same with Willian is that they are there to make things happen and win games.
“Winning games is decided in the boxes and they have to be more encouraged to attack those situations to take risks, to take shots, to take those opportunities to dribble because that’s there quality.
“Hopefully that’s going to bring Martin the confidence. We scored two wondergoals from outside of the box and that’s another important way of getting goals and it’s going to be crucial.”
It is in Arteta’s nature to be demanding of his players and that seems to be no different with Odegaard.
The Norwegian seems at home already in North London, and if he keeps this form up, there is every reason to suggest his temporary stay may become permanent at the end of the season.