French striker Olivier Giroud grabbed a superb hat-trick as Arsenal crushed Olympiakos 3-0 to book their spot in the Champions League’s last 16 at the Stadio Giorgios Karaiskakis on Wednesday night.
Arsenal needed to overturn a 3-2 defeat at home to Olympiakos earlier in the season when they faced the Greek champions away in a Group F showdown.
Olympiakos had lost against only Bayern Munich in their previous 26 home fixtures, however, the Gunners have never failed to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League since the start of the new format in 2003-04, and their experience on the biggest stage shone through on a memorable night in Athens.
Giroud opened the scoring in the 29th minute with a powerful header, after Aaron Ramsey broke down the left and clipped in a cross toward the 29-year old, who glanced home at the near post.
Four minutes after the interval, Arsenal had the decisive margin and it owed much to a sensational piece of play from former Olympiakos loanee Campbell, as he reached a lofted pass from Ozil, before beating three defenders with an angled, no-look pass to Giroud. From 10 yards, the striker could barely miss.
The French striker put Arsenal’s qualification beyond doubt with his third from the penalty spot.
Giroud became the seventh Arsenal player to reach double figures for goals in the Champions League.
Speaking to BT Sport, after the game, the delighted Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger said: I told you before that it would be the greatest escape.
“I must say I’m very proud of the team as we had to be right on the mental and tactical side.
“Nine times out of 10 you are out (after such a poor start). We needed something special to come back like we did and tonight we needed a complete team perform.”
It was a result that will also spare Wenger considerable criticism following his calculated gamble earlier in the season that so nearly backfired. With his focus firmly on the opportunity to regain a Premier League title he last won in 2003-2004, Wenger’s decision to rest and rotate key players in this competition was punished with two defeats against Dynamo Zagreb and Olympiakos.
Moreover, the win preserved Arsenal’s superb record in the Champions League, having now qualified for the competition’s second stage for the 16th time in succession, and that will be a tradition they are keen to continue.
Group winners Bayern Munich finished with a 2-0 victory at Dinamo Zagreb thanks to a second-half Robert Lewandowski brace as coach Pep Guardiola claimed his 100th win in charge of the Bundesliga side.
Chelsea progressed to the last 16 as Group G winners with a 2-0 win at home to Jose Mourinho’s old side Porto as Ivan Marcano’s early own goal put them ahead and Willian scored in the second half.
In a post-match interview after the game, Mourinho said: “The players were really committed to get a result, as much for their pride. They didn’t want to go to the Europa League.”
Ukrainian champions Dynamo Kiev beat Maccabi Tel Aviv 1-0 through a Denys Garmash goal to qualify alongside Chelsea in Group G to the last 16. Their first time since 1999/2000.
Elsewhere, Roma advanced as runners-up in Group E, after German side, Bayer Leverkusen were unable to beat Defending Champions, Barcelona in Germany.
The draw for the last 16 will take place at UEFA’s headquarters in Switzerland on Monday.