Arsenal will be praying that lightning does not strike twice against Olympiacos when they kick off their Europa League last-16 tie against the Greek giants on Thursday at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium.
The hosts overcame PSV 5-4 on aggregate to advance to the next stage, while Arsenal staged a dramatic comeback to dump Benfica out in the last 32.
It has been a little over a year since that fateful evening at the Emirates Stadium in last season’s Europa League, but Olympiacos forward Youssef El Arabi probably still appears in the nightmares of Gooners up and down the country.
With the tie delicately poised at 1-1 after Arsenal had taken a 1-0 victory home from the first leg, El Arabi struck in the 119th minute before Gunners captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed a gilt-edged chance to send the Gunners through, and Olympiacos progressed to the last 16 in the 2019-20 tournament to leave an Emirates crowd shell-shocked.
Mikel Arteta has been forced to endure some tough watches during his short stint in the Emirates dugout, and that night against the Greek powerhouses definitely ranks high on that list, so the Gunners boss will pay Olympiacos and Pedro Martins the respect that they deserve, especially considering their stellar home form of late.
This week’s hosts did not make life easy for themselves against PSV, and the Dutch side were minutes away from going through after an Eran Zahavi double put them 2-0 up in the second leg after a 4-2 first-leg defeat, but substitute Ahmed Hassan struck in the 88th minute as they reached the last 16 for the second year running.
Martins’s men eased to a 3-0 victory over Lamia in the league at the weekend and they are unbeaten in 10 matches at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium – winning nine of them – and having notched up 28 goals in that run, an Arsenal team who are becoming incredibly difficult to predict must have their wits about them if they are to gain the upper hand this week.
A dominant Arsenal struck inside the opening six minutes at Burnley through a rejuvenated Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but in a tale as old as time, the Gunners failed to put the game to bed and were once again the victims of their own downfall in calamitous fashion at Turf Moor.
Granit Xhaka’s attempted pass out wide struck Chris Wood’s chest before trickling into the back of the net, and after two dramatic handball episodes involving Nicolas Pepe and Erik Pieters – as well as Dani Ceballos crashing the woodwork with virtually the last kick of the game – Arsenal’s momentum took another huge hit as they had to settle for a 1-1 draw.
AR controversy aside, Arsenal only had themselves to blame for not killing the game off during the first half, although Mikel Arteta made his displeasure known at the final whistle after those at Stockley Park decided against awarding his side a penalty for the first Pepe-Pieters incident, and the Europa League is clearly the Gunners’ best bet for another campaign of European football next term.
Arteta’s men took to the pitch at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium as recently as February 25 as their three usual suspects – Aubameyang, Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka – all produced the goods in a nervy finale against Benfica to send the Gunners into the last 16, but Olympiacos are sure to capitalise on any further mistakes that Arsenal seem almost destined to make.
However, the Gunners can take solace from the fact that they are unbeaten in 10 away matches in the Europa League and have won four of their last five on unfamiliar territory in the tournament, plus with Olympiacos winless in four at home against English teams, Arteta’s men could be forgiven for expecting another positive result on Greek soil.