By Simon Sinclair
Arsene Wenger’s 200th European game ended in a 3-1 defeat to Olympiakos as his second string Arsenal side were out performed for the majority of the 90 minutes in Greece.
The Frenchman made nine changes to his team that beat Wigan 4-0 at the weekend having already qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League in first place in Group F for the trip to the Stadio Georgios Karaiskaki.
Skipper Robin van Persie, along with key midfielder Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Mikel Arteta were all rested by Wenger as he looks to keep the Gunners fresh as they continue to compete for trophies on three fronts this season.
This gave squad players such as Andrey Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh and Yossi Benayoun a chance to impress. Meanwhile Sebastien Squillaci and Lukasz Fabianski were handed rare starts in the Champions League.
Apart from Benayoun and brief moments from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal’s fringe players did little to show Wenger why they should be considered at all for first-team action. Indeed, some proved why they should be nowhere near the fringes of the team.
If Arsenal are to challenge for honours then drastic changes need to be made to the depth of their squad as Wenger must learn that some players are not up to the standard that he needs them to keep pace with the likes Manchester City and Manchester United.
Defensively the Gunners were a shambles. They weren’t helped by an injury to Fabianski midway through the first half, but before he left the field he was at fault for Olympiakos’s first goal as he made a rash decision to rush out at Rafik Djebbour leaving him with an easy finish.
Vito Mannone, the Pole’s replacement, somehow performed worse than his predecessor in the Arsenal goal.
His poor decision-making was highlighted as he rushed out to clear his lines leaving David Fuster with an empty net to shoot. The Italian attempted to kick the ball away as he hared back to his line but missed, gifting the Greek side a goal.
|ARSENAL'S MISFIRING GUNNERS
| VITO MANNONE
||Replaced Fabianski and proved to be just as calamitous as the Pole, bizarrely attempting to scissor kick Fuster's effort when inside his own area where a simple catch would have sufficed.|
| ANDREY ARSHAVIN
||Possibly one of the most frustrating footballers to watch. The Russian's undoubted ability is often masked behind poor work-rate. Seemed to remain in second gear throughout the match.|
| MAROUANE CHAMAKH
||Out-paced, out-thought and out=muscled at almost every turn. Arsene Wenger will be desperate for options up front given Robin van Persie's fragility, but the Moroccan looked barely half the player the Dutchman is at the moment.|
Add that to a host of poor handling issues and communication with his defenders, most of all the abysmal Squillaci, and it would be safe to say we won’t be seeing the Italian in goal for a good while.
Fabianski and Mannone showed Arsenal’s lack of depth in the keeping position which is typical across their entire squad. If Wojciech Szczesny was to go down with a long-term injury neither of these keepers would ensure the Gunners maintained their quest for silverware.
Wenger alluded to poor communication issues after the match but that was just the tip of the iceberg as his side’s right flank was exposed by awful play.
Johan Djourou continues to prove he’s not Champions League standard, while Squillaci is just downright poor as he lacks any positional sense or composure at the back. His mix-up in the six-yard box with Mannone in the second half summed up both their evenings.
The Arsenal boss will have to invest in a defender of two in January and not just because of injuries to Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson.
Squillaci and Djourou have proven they are not up to the task and Wenger could do worse than look at Fabricio Coloccini from Newcastle if he chooses to bolster his defensive options.
The Gunners were uncompetitive in midfield and Benayoun looked to be the sole player that looked like he belonged in the Champions League.
Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin were uncompetitive and at time naive, failing to show the nous needed to play against experienced players.
Frimpong had suggested he should go out on loan in the Premier League or elsewhere in Europe to get games under his belt and that would probably best for him.
With the return of Jack Wilshere looming and Benayoun's composed performance, the Gunners have options in midfield, and they have also been linked with a loan move for Lyon’s Yoann Gourcuff.
Up front without Van Persie, Arsenal did not look a threat at all. Arshavin and Chamakh appeared disinterested and lacked the cutting edge needed at this level. Their chances in the first half were testament to this.
Judging by their attitude and their performance, they can’t be relied upon if Van Persie goes down – which in the past has been the bane of this team.
Wenger invested in the summer in Gervinho, and Walcott’s form has improved, but more options are needed as the skipper looks like the only striker at the Emirates who has goals in him.
However there looks to be promise in Oxlade-Chamberlain, who continues to impress at such a young age. But his time is not just yet, so the Gunners boss will need to look for a proven marksman – and several more quality additions.
Arsenal’s fringe players had a great chance to prove to Wenger they were up to the standards of title winners, but judging by Tuesday’s performance they’ve blown it. Investment will now be needed in January to add quality and depth – until then, the Gunners best hope they don’t get any more injuries.