Arsène Wenger will take what he can get at present.
This narrow victory over arguably the poorest team in Arsenal's Champions League group sufficed to keep the wolves from the door for another day, although it did little to portray the club as credible contenders.
There was anxiety until the final whistle, as Arsenal made light of a position of early strength to put their supporters through the wringer. Match tickets here ought to come with beta blockers and, on this evidence, there will surely be apprehension ahead of the derby at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
Wenger's makeshift defence, which had the midfielder Alex Song pressed into its heart, failed to convince and Olympiakos were left to wonder what might have been had they taken some of their chances. On more than one occasion, they were left to ponder how Wojciech Szczesny's net had not swelled.
Arsenal, though, played up the positives, which included the goals for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and André Santos, together with the form of Szczesny, but, chiefly, took in the primacy of the result. This was a third consecutive victory, following those over Shrewsbury Town in the Carling Cup and Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League. Wenger has always said that confidence evaporates quickly and must be rebuilt slowly. It feels painstaking at the moment.
The manager suffered in the stands, as he served the final match of his touchline ban but he and his players took plenty of solace from a glance at the Group F table, with daylight having emerged between themselves in second and Borussia Dortmund in third. The ties against the leaders, Marseille, now loom large.
Olympiakos had arrived with such a dismal record on their travels in England that it was worth printing: P9 L9 GF1 GA29. They played well, with pace on the counter and in wide areas, but this Arsenal team have the ability to make almost any opposition look threatening.
Pat Rice, Wenger's assistant, admitted Arsenal had lost their way in the first half but their wobbles ran deeper. David Fuster had blown a presentable early chance for the visitors and Rafik Djebbour had been denied by a goalline clearance by Mikel Arteta on 14 minutes, which earned the Spaniard the dubious delight of a smacker from Szczesny. Djebbour put the rebound into the side netting.
Arsenal had drawn first blood to hint at a calmer evening. Early goals in these nervous times feel priceless and it was a moment that Oxlade-Chamberlain, on his Champions League debut, will remember forever.
The 18-year-old took a flighted pass from Song and he skated in from the right, across the edge of the penalty area. His first touch had been assured and his determination bought him a break off the hapless Iván Marcano. When the shooting opportunity presented itself, he remained composed to cut a low left-footed effort through Olof Mellberg's legs and into the bottom corner.
Wenger, who used Robin van Persie and Aaron Ramsey only as late substitutes, was out of his seat again when Santos scored his first goal for the club. Rosicky released the Brazil left-back after neat interplay and he crossed for Marouane Chamakh, who could not get there. Never mind. When the ball came back to Santos, he got a break off Marcano and exposed the goalkeeper, Franco Costanzo, at the near post.
In times gone by, that would have been the end of the matter but there is a brittleness about Wenger's current crop. Fuster's goal was a shambles from an Arsenal point of view. They were caught cold by a short corner and when Ariel Ibagaza crossed, the midfielder got up in yards of space to thump his header home.
Chamakh had snatched at an excellent chance moments earlier, from Andrey Arshavin's chip, and Arsenal were second best for the remainder of the half, their defending marked by disorder and desperation. Szczesny needed to be sharp and Rosicky's hack at Kevin Mirallas on the edge of the area, which earned him a booking, summed up the anxiety.
Olympiakos's defending was hardly of the bolted door variety, either, and the neutral would have enjoyed the helter‑skelter entertainment. Oxlade-Chamberlain might have scored again when he ran on to a throughball from the otherwise frustrating Chamakh yet his touch deserted him and Costanzo blocked. Arshavin would also force the goalkeeper to save.
The game did become tighter as it wore on but nobody in Arsenal colours could relax, least of all Wenger. As the travelling supporters bounced as one, their team probed and the moment that might have placed another dent in Arsenal's season came in the 64th minute.
The right-back Vassilis Torosidis showed that he could centre with menace but his curling left‑footed shot from 25 yards almost got the Greek champions a result. With Szczesny beaten, the ball crashed against the crossbar. Arsenal edged home by the slenderest of margins.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Matt and Kim Rudge
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