Arsenal crashed out of the Europa League on Thursday night, losing 2-1 to Olympiacos at the Emirates to close one avenue of Champions League qualification.
Pape Abou Cisse forced extra-time with the only goal in the opening 90 minutes before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s late volley looked like it was enough for Arsenal to go through.
But a late-minute strike from Youssef El Arabi stunned the home crowd almost as much the final moment of drama, Aubameyang’s fluffed sitter.
So who were the winners and losers on a dramatic and costly night for Arsenal?
Winner: Olympiacos’ centre-back duo
Ousseynou Ba was involved in an incident that could have easily been the turning point in the first half. The defender brought down Nicolas Pepe just outside the box and was arguably fortunate to remain on the pitch.
At first it looked as if a penalty was about to be given. Pepe fell into the box but the referee rightly pointed to a spot on the edge of the area. Olympiacos had just about gotten away with it, but Ba still feared the worst when the referee reached into his pocket.
He must have been extremely relieved to see yellow rather than red, a decision likely settled on because another Olympiacos defender was on the scene. Still, Ba could have easily been labelled the last man as Pepe probably would have registered an effort on goal if he hadn’t been tripped.
The other member of Olympiacos’ centre-back partnership cannot be ignored. Pape Abou Cissea opened the scoring with what turned out to be a crucial goal. He also made 13 successful clearances.
Loser: Nicolas Pepe
Arsenal’s front three cannot be faulted for their effort against Olympiacos. But it’s safe to say they will have better nights than this one before the season is over.
Nicolas Pépé has completed 10 take-ons against Olympiacos, already the joint-most by a player in a single #UEL game this season.
Half of those were during *that* period of play in the box. 😅 pic.twitter.com/BRF4ECy3ze
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 27, 2020
Nicolas Pepe endured a particularly frustrating evening, often overrunning the ball and failing to get it out of his feet properly. On one occasion, he cut back onto his opposite foot five or six times and still only managed to win a corner instead of working the goalkeeper.
The club’s record signing has shown glimpses of what he can offer in an Arsenal shirt, but it’s time for him to start being more productive in front of goal.
Winner: Dani Ceballos
When Dani Ceballos first arrived at Arsenal, it looked as if he had been brought in as a replacement for Mesut Ozil, whose future at the club was uncertain at the time. Unai Emery deployed Ceballos in the number 10 role, and he initially impressed before fading quickly and losing his place in the side.
There was even talk of a return to Real Madrid in January, but since the transfer window closed Ceballos has gotten his head down – with a little help from Arteta. The still relatively new Arsenal boss has been playing Ceballos slightly deeper and the results have been impressive.
In that role, Ceballos made six ball recoveries in normal time – only David Luiz made more for Arsenal (7). He also topped the interceptions charts with three, showing an admirable tendency to read the visitors’ attacking play and deal with threats. Ceballos went quiet in the second half and was eventually substituted, but he is finally making a notable contribution.
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Loser: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Who else but him?!
Aubameyang is Arsenal's hero yet again! Fire
A spectacular overhead kick to dig the Gunners out of trouble in extra-time. pic.twitter.com/AY66rOjLUC
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 27, 2020
Aubameyang suffered the extreme highs and lows of knockout football. The Gunners skipper scored an excellent goal that looked like it would be the winner, only to miss an absolute sitter at the death after Olympiacos had gone back ahead.
He looked devastated at the end and it may take some time for him to mentally recover. That said, he is a goalscorer through and through, and he will now be determined to keep up his lethal Premier League run to fire Arsenal to Champions League through other means.
Winner: Arsenal’s top four hopes
And just like that, Arsenal have one fewer competition to focus on. “Oh well, we can concentrate on the league” – it’s a line trotted out by football fans across the country after exiting a cup competition, but it rings true on this occasion for Arsenal.
Of course, the Gunners were aiming for the same thing in the Europa League and the Premier League, in that they were hoping to qualify for the Champions League either by going all the way in Europe or finishing in the top four in the league.
Only one of those is a possibility now, and Arsenal’s objective is made easier by the fact Arteta will have a lower risk of injury and fatigue without Thursday night games. Every cloud.
Loser: Bernd Leno
Bernd Leno has been one of Arsenal’s standout performers this season under Arteta and the sacked Unai Emery, but he will rue the part he played in Olympiacos’ winner.
The German goalkeeper was far too calm when presented with a back-pass in the final minute of extra time. His poor first touch resulted in Olympiacos winning a corner, from which they scored at the second attempt.
Usually so composed with his feed, Leno won’t want to watch that one back.