PIRAEUS (Greece) • Arsene Wenger voiced hope that it might be Arsenal's "lucky year" in the Champions League, after watching his team pull off the "greatest escape" to pip Olympiakos to a place in the last 16.
Olivier Giroud scored a hat-trick as the Gunners won 3-0 to overcome the Greek champions on the head-to-head tie-break on Wednesday. It was a night when manager Wenger described every last detail as being "perfect".
The draw for the round of 16 takes place on Monday and Arsenal will face either Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Wolfsburg or Zenit St Petersburg.
"We'll see who we get next round, I've not even looked at that," Wenger said after Arsenal qualified for the knockout stages for a 16th consecutive year.
PREDICTION CAME TRUE
I told you beforehand that it would be the 'greatest escape'.
ARSENE WENGER, Arsenal manager
"We were so much out of it that I put all my focus on staying in.
"The kind of performance we produced in a very heated atmosphere was perfect - on the mental front and the tactical side as well.
"We needed great character and that kind of performance will certainly make the team stronger.
"We were in escape mode before the game and we needed something special. I told you beforehand that it would be the 'greatest escape'. When you do that, it creates a positive memory for the rest of the season. Maybe, it is a lucky year for us in the Champions League. You never know."
Wenger has enjoyed many great European nights during his long tenure at Arsenal.
But he put this one up there with the best, rivalling their performances against Roma in 2002, Inter Milan in 2003 and AC Milan in 2008.
Their qualification completed a remarkable turnaround after they lost three of their first four games of the campaign.
They needed to win by any result other than 1-0 or 2-1 at a ground where they had lost on each of the last three visits to finish second behind table-toppers Bayern Munich.
"When we look at who we lost (to injuries) in the last three weeks - (Francis) Coquelin, (Santi) Cazorla and (Alexis) Sanchez - and we came here with all the other players who were already out, not many people gave us a chance," the Frenchman added.
"But we are a real team. We are very close in the dressing room and you could see this tonight."
Giroud opened the scoring in Greece with a powerful header in the first half, doubled their advantage with a calm left-footed finish quickly after the restart, and recorded his first hat-trick for Arsenal with a penalty.
Before his feat, only club legend Thierry Henry had netted a treble in an away tie in the Champions League for Arsenal.
"It is fantastic for me and the team, and we are really pleased to go through," said the France striker. "We want to go as far as we can and my personal target is to reach at least the quarter-final.
"It's the fourth year I have been at Arsenal and I have never played in a quarter-final."
Perhaps this could be their year.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS