OLYMPIACOS 0, ARSENAL 3
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger toasted one of the greatest European nights of his long tenure after Olivier Giroud scored a hat-trick to complete a Champions League great escape in Greece last night.
France striker Giroud’s first treble for the club earned the convincing win over Olympiacos required to snatch second place in Group F and seal qualification to the knockout stage for a 16th successive year.
“We had a perfect performance on the tactical and mental side. This kind of performance tonight, in a very heated atmosphere, showed that we have great character,” said Wenger.
“It will make us stronger and strengthen the belief of the squad. It is a special night for us because we were in escape mode. We needed something special and when you deliver something special it can create positive memories for the rest of the season. Maybe it’s a lucky year for us in the Champions League, you never know.”
Arsenal join Premier League rivals Chelsea and Manchester City in Monday’s draw for the last 16, where Wenger’s men could get Barcelona, Real Madrid, Wolfsburg, Atletico Madrid or Zenit St Petersburg.
Only a commanding victory – any win other than 1-0 or 2-1 – would have been enough to pip Olympiacos and maintain Wenger’s proud record of reaching the last 16 of Europe’s top competition.
Arsenal are used to making their lives difficult in Europe, but instead of their seemingly annual heroic failure, this time they – inspired by Giroud, a man blamed for previous exits – were faultless.
His first settled the visitors after a nervy first half hour and came when playmaker Mesut Ozil’s measured pass freed left-back Nacho Monreal to cross for Giroud to plant a downward header inside the near post.
Former Olympiacos loanee Joel Campbell shone on his return to Piraeus and his nimble footwork bought him time to slip in Giroud, who finished first time from close range four minutes after half-time.
The 29-year-old completed his hat-trick and sapped the hosts’ resistance on 67 minutes when he sent goalkeeper Roberto the wrong way with a penalty after Omar Elabdellaoui had been penalised for handball.