This wasn’t meant to happen. This Arsenal squad was supposed to be much stronger, much deeper and have more quality in reserve, so if the manager made changes, the team would still be good enough to compete in any competition.
Ordinarily, making six changes for the opening Champions League game is a pretty daft thing to do, but the Arsenal starting XI that took to the field in Zagreb on Wednesday was pretty close to last season’s first choice XI. Arsene Wenger analysed the fixtures coming up and threat posed by Zagreb and decided that he wanted to keep some players fresh ahead of important domestic challenges, and before the match with Dinamo, I don’t think many would have argued with that.
Unfortunately, the players who came into the side looked rusty and the Gunners suffered a pretty humiliating 2-1 defeat. Mikel Arteta, who has looked useful when coming on in matches this season, was off the pace in midfield, particularly when Arsenal where down to ten men and being stretched by the hosts. Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs showed why they’ve been usurped by Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal for the full-back roles, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was lively at times going forward, had another defensive lapse which cost Arsenal a goal.
But despite those dodgy showings, Olivier Giroud has understandably taken the brunt of frustration following the game. Brought back in to replace Theo Walcott, Giroud actually started quite brightly by getting in dangerous positions and having an excellent header saved following a corner. But his frustration grew when the referee penalised him for virtually nothing when Giroud jostled with a defender, leading the Frenchman to get booked for dissent. While it was silly from Giroud, there seemed of occasions later in the game when similar levels of dissent from home players went unpunished. It’s fine to book players, just be consistent. Unfortunately, the officials were consistently poor all game.
Giroud then picked up a second yellow for a needless challenge in the middle of the pitch. The referee should have shown some common sense instead of grabbing the limelight and pulling out a red card, but when on a yellow card, Giroud shouldn’t have given the referee the option of booking him again. Despite scoring at the weekend, Giroud is clearly a man struggling for confidence. With Welbeck out, Arsene Wenger needs his French striker to rediscover his mojo soon, otherwise the dissenting calls and criticism from fans will only intensify.
The fact Giroud was sent off with the team 1-0 down made it all the more infuriating. The opening goal featured poor defending from Debuchy and Oxlade-Chamberlain as they both managed to leave a gaping wound on the right to allow the full-back to stroll forward. It summed up the first half that the ball eventually went in off the Ox as he made a late attempt to track back. To see such a talented player make such basic defensive positioning errors is frustrating and these lapses in concentration is something he has to work on as it’s not the first time it’s cost Arsenal.
It was always going to be an uphill task with ten men in the second half, but Arsenal made it almost impossible with a dreadful piece of defending from a set piece allowing Dinamo to take a 2-0 lead. Ten men or not, there’s no excuse for not getting set-up properly to defend a corner, and no excuse for not jumping properly at the near post *cough* Kieran Gibbs *cough*.
Arsenal did create some good chances and would have been back in the game but for some dodgy decisions from the linesman twice denying Mesut Ozil. Arsene Wenger went for it by switching to a 3-4-2 formation, and after Theo Walcott finished well following Alexis’ through ball, there was a glimmer of hope. It proved to be too much to do though, and despite the officials, Arsenal only had themselves to blame, particularly for the poor first half showing and the goals they conceded.
The team did fight pretty well with ten men and Arsene Wenger went for it by making three changes at once, but mistakes left too much to do to save the game. The rotation has at least helped to clarify to Arsene Wenger who makes it into his best XI.
A lot of the players brought in against Zagreb will probably get another opportunity to perform in the Capital One Cup at White Hart Lane next week. While the efforts in Croatia were pretty infuriating, a similar showing in the derby would be unforgivable.