The scene is set for a potential redemption story worthy of a Hollywood script. The location is Athens, Greece, and the main protagonist is Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
As Arsenal fans will vividly remember, it was Olympiacos that knocked the Gunners out of last season’s Europa League competition in the round of 32. With the score tied 1-1 on aggregate in the second leg at the Emirates, the match went to extra time. When Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored in the 113th minute, he looked to be the hero for Arsenal.
Unfortunately, the Gunners’ inability to defend a set-piece allowed Youssef El Arabi to level the scores in the last minute of play. Then, in added time, Aubameyang had a clear chance to win the match. He struck a glorious chance wide. Olympiacos went through on the away goals and the Gunners were dumped out.
Jump ahead one year later and last week Arsenal hosted Benfica in the second leg of their round of 32 tie. With the COVID pandemic causing travel restrictions, both legs were required to be played on neutral grounds.
Arsenal and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to seek redemption vs Olympiacos in Europa League last 16
Since Arsenal never make anything easy, the anxiety-inducing encounter went down to the wire. When Aubameyang scored a header from a Bukayo Saka pass in the 87th minute the Gunners had fought back to make it through to the last 16 by the skin of their teeth.
Afterward, it was obvious that the miss from 2020 was still on Aubameyang’s mind. He told BT Sport:
“I think everybody is happy tonight and definitely, I had this (late miss against Olympiacos last season) in my head. It was a hard game but tonight I’m really happy for all the team and what we showed tonight is going to be an example for the future.”
When the round of 16 draw was made, it seemed almost pre-ordained that Arsenal would be drawn against the Greek champions. Of course, they were.
Olympiacos has become Arsenal’s bogey team. Since 2009, the two clubs have met ten times in either Champions League or Europa League competitions, with these matches split down the middle with each side victorious in five of the legs.
Not that they need the extra motivation, but revenge and redemption will certainly be on the minds of Aubameyang and his teammates when the two sides meet.
The COVID travel restrictions will not affect this tie and the two teams will meet in Athens on March 11th at Arsenal’s home stadium from last week. This time, however, the actual residents of the stadium, Olympiacos, will be the home side. Thankfully. One week later, the two sides will meet at the Emirates in north London: actual home.
One added bit of intrigue in this encounter, as if it needs any is having former Gunner Sokratis Papastathopoulos set to face his old teammates having joined Olympiacos in January. He has spoken of how he feels his new side can exploit Arsenal’s weak points during their Europa League last-16 tie next month:
He said: “It is something special because until a month ago I was with them. I think it will be a difficult game. Arsenal are a very big team.”
Now that would be a Greek tragedy.