By Rob Kelly
Martin Odegaard opened his account for the club with a stunning strike before goals from Gabriel and Mo Elneny put us in control of our Europa League last-16 tie with Olympiacos.
The Norwegian international gave us the lead with a fierce 25-yard drive in the first half but the hosts struck back just before the hour mark when a defensive error allowed Youssef El-Arabi to stroke home an equaliser.
The game looked to be heading for a draw before Willian curled in a cross from the right and Gabriel attacked it, directing his header across goal and into the far corner.
There was still time for Elneny – who had just stepped off the bench – to charge forward and send a low drive into the far corner to give us a third away goal and put us in the driving seat in this tie.
Much had been made in the build-up to this game of the opportunity to avenge last season’s exit at the hands of the Greeks, and our early play indicated that was a factor.
We came flying out of the blocks, and within two minutes we had created our first chance as Kieran Tierney picked out Odegaard, but the Norwegian didn’t make clean contact and dragged his shot wide.
Not long afterwards we were back on the attack again, this time with Hector Bellerinto the fore as he picked out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with a pinpoint cross – only for our captain’s header to be brilliantly saved by Jose Sa.
It was one-way traffic, as our high press - and our energetic full backs in particular – made life very uncomfortable for the hosts, but we were struggling to make our dominance pay.
Finally we did make the breakthrough 10 minutes before the interval, and in some style as Bellerin’s high press won the ball back and Odegaard collected it 25 yards out and unleashed a fierce drive that flew into the roof of the net.
It was no more than we deserved – although Olympiacos nearly made us pay for some slack defending before the half time whistle when Giorgios Masouras preyed on a David Luiz error in the area but flashed his shot high and wide.
We continued to press for more after the interval but despite staying well on top, we gave away our advantage just before the hour mark with another self-inflicted wound, as Dani Ceballos got caught playing out and Youssef El-Arabi stole it off him and curled it in.
The goal change the complexion of the game, and the Moroccan striker soon had a golden chance to take the lead but saw his shot inside the area deflected just beyond the far post.
But just when the game seemed to be heading for a draw, Gabriel rose highest in the hosts’ area to put us in front with a powerful, looping header back across goal.
Elneny then wrapped up the scoring with just his fourth goal for the club, picking the ball up in midfield and charging at a backpeddling defence before finding the corner with a fine drive.
We still have the second leg to negotiate, and no one will take anything for granted after what happened last season, but it’s very much advantage Arsenal.
HOW IT HAPPENED
WHAT IT MEANS
We have three away goals and big advantage heading into the second leg against the Greeks back at Emirates Stadium next Thursday.
It’s the small matter of the north London derby on Sunday, as Tottenham travel up the Seven Sisters Road to face us at Emirates Stadium.
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