Athens, Dec 10 (IANS)
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has hailed his side’s comprehensive victory over Olympiakos and subsequent qualification for the knock-out stages of the Champions League as a “great escape”. France striker Olivier Giroud scored a hat-trick as the English Premier League (EPL) giants hammered Olympiakos 3-0 in their second leg clash here on Wednesday to make it out of Group F. The victory completed a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for Arsenal who had lost three of the first four games of their campaign. They had suffered upset defeats at the hands of Olympiakos and Dinamo Zagreb in the first leg which had thrown a cloud over their chances of advancing to the pre-quarterfinals of the Champions League. They had also suffered a comprehensive 1-5 defeat to group winners Bayern Munich. Wenger was delighted by Wednesday’s performance and praised his team’s ability to pull of an emphatic turnaround despite injuries to several players. “I told you before the game it would be the greatest escape. “It is a fantastic achievement for us. When you look at who we’ve lost in the last three weeks, we’ve lost Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez among other long-term injuries. Not many people gave us a chance,” Wenger told BT Sport.
“Nine times out of 10 you are out. We needed something special to come back like we did and tonight we needed a complete team performance,” he added. “We are a real team. In the dressing room this team is very close and you could see that again today.” Arsenal have now advanced from the group stages of the Champions League for 16 consecutive seasons. Giroud opened the scoring with a powerful header in the first half and then doubled the advantage in the second session with an excellent left-footed finish after being sent up by Joel Campbell. He rounded off a superb individual display when he completed his hattrick with a penalty. Giroud has notched up a tally of 13 goals this season. The French striker’s performance drew special praise from Wenger who also hailed the quality of the team as a whole. “You don’t need to single Giroud out tonight because he scored the goals. But he showed character again with the penalty,” the 66-year-old said. “I must say I’m very proud of the team as we had to be right on the mental and tactical side. At 2-0 we had to push for a third goal, it was too dangerous to stay at 2-0. This team really is a team and they showed it again,” he added. “We had a perfect performance.”