Arsenal pulled off mission impossible in Athens on Wednesday, as the Gunners reached the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the 16th straight season with a 3-0 win over Olympiakos.
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Olivier Giroud was the hero as he netted his first Arsenal hat trick in a crucial game with one goal in the first half and two in the second, as the Gunners eliminated Olympiakos in the process as they knew before the game that they needed at least a 2-0 victory.
Arsene Wenger was a happy man as his side recovered superbly from losing their opening two Group F games and won three of their last four matches to clinch qualification to the knockout round.
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Early on Arsenal weathered a storm and then pushed forward as Joel Campbell cut the ball back and Mathieu Flamini slipped as he hit the ball then his shot crashed against the crossbar and out. The ball was then half cleared and Nacho Monreal‘s crossed the ball back in but Olivier Giroud’s header was a tame on after
Arsenal worked their way into the game more and more and Ozil lobbed a great ball through to Giroud but the goalkeeper was forced into a stop. Moments later Giroud wasn’t to be denied as a beautiful pass from Ozil found Aaron Rasmey and his cross was met with a superb header by Giroud as he gave Arsenal the lead. 1-0 to the Gunners as their mission to sneak into the UCL last 16 was well and truly on.
After that goal Arsenal were caught in two minds about whether to go for the crucial second goal which would see them go through to the last 16, or sit back and protect their lead before launching a late onslaught. Ozil looked dangerous every time he got on the ball and almost played in Theo Walcott before the break but after 45 minutes the Gunners were 1-0 up and needed one more goal to advance at Olympiakos’ expense.
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In the second half Arsenal came flying out of the traps and were soon 2-0 up as Ozil lobbed the ball into Joel Campbell and his exquisite play set up Giroud who swept home. 2-0 to the Arsenal who were going through to the last 16.
Olympiakos went close to pulling a goal back right away as they piled in at a corner but Petr Cech saved fairly comfortably and then Walcott went close to making it 3-0 as Campbell’s cross found him at the back post but his volley was deflected just wide.
The home side needed just one goal and knew they would still qualify with a 2-1 defeat and Kostas Fortounis forced Cech into a magnificent diving save to keep Arsenal 2-0 up and Brown Ideye then couldn’t finish
Arsenal then won a penalty kick as Omar Elabdellaoui threw himself at the ball and the referee awarded a soft penalty for handball, which Giroud stepped up and scored to net his and Arsenal’s third goal, meaning Olympiakos needed to score three times in the final 24 minutes to make the UCL last 16 at Arsenal’s expense.
Late on Arsenal sat back and soaked up Olympiakos pressure as the Greek side needed didn’t get anywhere near scoring once, let alone three times, and Wenger’s men had pulled off a miraculous escape to make the knockout rounds.