Arsenal pull off great Champions League escape as Giroud scores hat trick
With the Gunners needing to win their final match by two clear goals, Wednesday’s encounter was meant to be a nail-biting affair for the club. However, Arsenal put in an assured performance from start to finish, with striker Olivier Giroud particularly enjoying the night with his first hat trick for Arsenal.
The win at the Karaiskakis Stadium in Athens lifted Arsenal to second in Group F behind Bayern Munich, completing their great escape after a disastrous start to their European campaign in September saw them suffer successive losses to both Olympiacos and Dinamo Zagreb.
The Gunner’s progression into the knockout round makes it 16 not out for Arsene Wenger and his side, with the club never having failed to make it beyond the Champions League group stages since the start of the competition’s new format in 2003/04.
Despite their perennial presence in the knockout stages, Arsenal have never won the competition - they reached the final in 2006 but lost to Barcelona - but Wenger hopes this could finally be their year, with ‘luck’ on their side.
“We were in escape mode before the game and we needed something special. I told you that it would be the greatest escape,” said the Arsenal boss after the game. “When you do that, it creates a positive memory for the rest of the season. Maybe it is a lucky year for us in the Champions League. You never know.”
After what was a slow start to the match, Giroud headed in his first from an Aaron Ramsey cross just before the half-hour mark to lift his side and the travelling support. Going in one goal to the good at the break was a fine start, with just one more needed to see Arsenal over the line.
Joel Campbell – deputizing in Athens for more familiar faces such as Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sánchez, both of whom were injured – in particular was excellent, terrorizing the Olympiacos defence from the off.
It was Campbell who created Giroud’s second of the night just four minutes after the restart - it was the goal they needed, but that wasn’t enough for Arsenal or Giroud.
The 29-year-old completed his hat trick from the penalty spot in the 69th minute to ensure his side’s progression, much to the delight of Arsenal fans everywhere.
The draw for the second round of the Champions League takes place on Monday, where Arsenal could face one of Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Wolfsburg or Zenit St. Petersburg. They cannot face Manchester City or Chelsea (who topped their respective groups) as teams from the same country are kept apart in the Round of 16 (no such restrictions apply in the latter stages).