Arsenal travelled to Olympiakos on Thursday night to open their Europa League knockout stages. Here are five things we learned from the 1-0 win.
It was not the most deserved victory that Arsenal will ever enjoy, but as they fly back to London, they will sit back and be most content with the result, if not the performance. Mikel Arteta’s side showed grit, character, resilience and heart to squeeze out a 1-0 victory against a formidable Olympiakos. Alexandre Lacazette scored late on in one of the few fluid attacking moves of the match, and the Gunners defended stoutly to take the away-goal lead back to the Emirates.
Here are five things we learned.
5. Why no Ainsley Maitland-Niles?
Arsenal struggled down the right flank throughout. This was especially troubling in the early stages as Mathieu Valbuena ran Sokratis ragged. In fairness to Sokratis, he is no right-back and the agility and balance of Valbuena was always going to cause him strife. Had Mikel Arteta been forced to play Sokratis at right-back with no other options, such problems would have been acceptable, but with Ainsley Maitland-Niles on the bench, Arteta had a perfectly capable player to start in Sokratis’ stead.
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Maitland-Niles flourished at right-back when Arteta first came to the club and it seemed as though he was set to challenge Hector Bellerin for the starting berth, even if he still viewed himself as a central midfielder. But once Bellerin proved his fitness and was ushered into the starting XI, Maitland-Niles has nowhere to be seen, even missing out on the squad entirely in last weekend’s win over Newcastle United.
If Arteta felt the need to rest Bellerin, which is quite understandable given the Spaniards’ near return from an ACL tear, why not play Maitland-Niles at right-back, not Sokratis? It makes very little sense. Something, it seems, is going on here.