In yesterday’s blog I spoke about how the start of the Champions League proper yesterday evening felt like the start of the new season, full of hope and expectation, with all of the positivity that comes with it. So isn’t it just the most ‘Arsenal’ thing to do to go and repeat the same mistakes that we were guilty of with the opening game of the Premier League season this year and lose to a frankly bang average Dinamo Zagreb team?
Let’s get the applause for the opponents out of the way first, because I think the postmortem after yesterday’s disastrous 2-1 defeat will probably take me a little longer to articulate, such were the litany of errors made by the players that started yesterday evening in Croatia. Zagreb were organised defensively, set themselves up to catch us on the counter and when they had the ball they did so with efficiency, pushing two wide players forward quickly and ensuring that the strikers kept up. Then when they didn’t have the ball, they knew that a deeper defensive unit of six of seven players would not really have much problem with Arsenal sideways passing the ball around the centre spot. They had their game plan, they stuck to it, it got them their result. Fair play to them.
However, they were gifted all three points from a selection of players in red and white who really did themselves no favours individually or as a collective unit in, especially those looking to win back their place in the first XI. I think after that display you could probably be safe to assume that there probably won’t be a single player who you’d class as a ‘squad’ player so far this season, who will be playing against Chelski on Saturday. Bar any injury to the first XI that is.
Arsene rang the changes from front to back and whilst it was a surprise to see so many, you have to say that the team that played should have been able to dismantle a hard working but very limited Zagreb. Lord knows what would have happened had we been playing a team that had anything about them in the Champions League. Or the Premier League for that matter, because this felt very much like a home game at the Emirates where we don’t play well, yet the away side – someone like Leicester – gets a goal and decides they are going to hold on to their advantage with all their might. So in came Ospina, Debuchy, Gibbs, Arteta, The Ox and Giroud. Not one of those players I had a problem with and let’s be honest, each of those players are going to get games through injury and suspension to others this season, so I was relatively happy that Arsene was managing his side better in terms of freshness with the Chelski game in mind.
What I didn’t expect was what transpired. We started off okayish I thought, retaining the ball, creating a couple of chances and hitting the post through a Giroud/defender mix up. That he then missed a guilt-edge chance from the very same move probably should have been an early indicator of his night. The Ox, too, also had a couple of good runs in behind the Zagreb full back and I thought he’d be able to kick on and give the full back a torrid time all evening. But for both players the early positivity – and I mean really early, because it went downhill quickly – wasn’t to last. For the Ox it was his switching off – again we can draw parallels with the West Ham game – defensively that cost us the first goal. There was a fortune of luck about the ricochet, but his failure to spot and track the full back was criminal. For Giroud it was his stupidity and petulance that had him needlessly booked for complaining, then whilst the second was harsh it was still a wild swing and with a referee who clearly fancied a bit of an upset, you can’t give him that opportunity. He did, we went down to ten and it was a massive struggle to get back in to the game at 1-0 going in to half time, which felt like a really difficult task to ask.
But to their credit – initially anyway – we looked like we’d had a halftime orange or two and some of the players started to step up. I’m pretty sure Ozil was onside twice when through on goal and he had a decent ten or fifteen minutes, but as soon as the second goal went in it effectively killed our chances. Again, what an ‘Arsenal’ goal to concede. Kieran Gibbs ducking out of a header, Koscienly not picking up and Arteta – terrible for most of the evening – was nowhere near his man. It was a comedy of errors that not one Arsenal fan would have been laughing about. It’s not as if we hadn’t even been warned too, because just after halftime Zagreb hit the post and the Croatian player who got on the end of it dragged a ball wide from inside the six yard box.
But we don’t learn as a club, do we? We make the same mistakes year-after-year. It’s why i’m convinced we’re going to lose to Chelski this weekend. We might play well, we might have more of the ball and we might create some good chances, but the way the story plays out usually at Stamford Bridge is that we’re just undone by a Chelski player and they hold us at arms length for the remainder of the game. But anyway, talking about that game can wait, because the fallout from last night still needs to be felt. I hope it’s felt very hard from the players this morning, because I am certainly fed up of seeing Arsenal do exactly the same again and start our Champions league campaign with an uphill battle.
The questions do need to be asked of the manager, but I think they need to be asked of the squad players more. How can Arsene justifiably give Gibbs and Debuchy an extended run in the team after that? How can Arteta stake a claim in the side when he doesn’t seem to be able to win headers, tackles or control possession? How can the Ox be hopeful of a recall when he switches off so easily in our defensive third of the pitch? There are far too many questions that the squad players have not answered sufficiently enough to warrant their inclusion on a regular basis I’m afraid. I appreciate that players need to play regularly to get themselves up to speed with the games, but the modern game doesn’t allow for that. The modern game requires concentration, razor-sharp fitness levels and players to have an instant impact. Squads are stronger, better and if players want to gain a run in the first XI they need to make an instant impact. None of those players yesterday will do so on the basis of last night’s game.
We’re not out of the Champions League. This is very recoverable, but we it means the margin for error is small, because if 10 points is the benchmark, then we need home and away wins against Olympiacos, a home win against Dinamo Zagreb and at least a point home or away against Bayern. No easy feat.
Let’s just hope the players can dust themselves off quickly enough for the hangover of this to disappear quick enough to not affect Saturday. Although I suspect many of the players that were rested yesterday will play, so hopefully they’re not as adversely affected.