September 17, 2015

Exposed In Zagreb

By Michael Bedard

How Arsenal's Season Found A New Low Point

With Chelsea coming up bright and early on Saturday one could understand an unfocused effort against Dinamo Zagreb.   Arsenal found themselves at the mercy of themselves on Wednesday.  Poor decisions and poor play handed Zagreb a 2-1 victory that could have been much worse.  Unfortunately individual players dictated the direction of this game and the current spot the team occupies.

Looking at player performances David Ospina had a bit of the adventure in the second half with a wandering journey off a foul that could have ended up either resulting in a goal or card.   It was the type of Arsenal keeping that we’ve seen from Alumnia in recent years.   Dodging the bullet there didn’t mean Ospina went unscathed with 2 goals against his ledger.  It really is difficult to give Ospina that much blame as both goals were more due to his defensive line. 

For weeks I’ve salivated at the chance to see if Mathieu Debuchy could bring the game forward more than what we’ve seen.  As an experienced player one expects knowledge of one’s skills plus a history of being a good crosser could yield some tasty dividends feeding in to the middle.  One game shouldn’t mark any player but on this day Debuchy showed no experiential skill and found himself out of position and misjudging his own pace time after time.  This constant pressing left Alex Oxlade Chamberlain to chase back endlessly while also forcing Laurent Koscielny to stretch his positioning – something that hasn’t been an issue with Hector Bellerin.  Zagreb’s first goal was a direct result of Debuchy being unable to play his defensive position and a rebound careening off of Ox.  It was all a matter of time until Owngoal showed up for the other side but in this case Debuchy created the opportunity with poor play. 

On the opposite side of the line was Kieran Gibbs and this was largely a strong performance.  It was a capable Gibbs – largely what we’ve wanted to see for a long time – healthy and where Debuchy was wandering aimlessly around the pitch Gibbs was where he was supposed to be for the most part.  Gibbs’s performance is rightly going to be remembered for a second half corner where only the gentlest of bunny hops allowed an easy header for the winning goal.  To be fair the spot where the ball game in is a place where Arsenal typically utilize Olivier Giroud, but Gibbs appeared to lack any decisiveness and it cost the team greatly.   

The final personnel issue on Wednesday was the reason why Gibbs’s responsibility had changed.  Olivier Giroud managed to pick up an early yellow thru the dreaded talk back to officials.   While understanding that this occurs within the game Giroud’s play following a card was absolutely unacceptable.  The play that Giroud went off for was a foul and in a lot of cases the official will give that last warning.  Except he had already received a last warning… twice.   Even more galling is that now we’re left with no true center forward against Olympiakos in 2 weeks.  Obviously Theo Walcott will play the part and can do so capably but it isn’t an ideal scenario to have Walcott with Joel Campbell on the bench and call that a complete squad.  It simply isn’t and it comes down to rather poor play from a player who knows better.  There are professional fouls but on this day Ollie was anything but professional.

The game wasn’t entirely without positives but it really wasn’t until Arteta, Ox, and Gibbs came off that the team re-set itself after going down to 10 men.  After a performance against Stoke where he missed chance after chance Walcott really only got one and he made the most of it.  It was a deft touch from Sanchez that set the run up and it was the type of goal Walcott is beginning to specialize in.  It would be nice to see some of the screamers that he’s put in when cutting from outside but there can be no complaints about his last 2 goals, both clinical in nature. 

The overall tenor of the team seemed to be one of annoyance though – annoyed at the position they had no business to be in.  Simply put this is the type of game where singular players let the team down, something we haven’t seen a lot of lately.  In this case the French Connection of Giroud and Debuchy played like petulant unprofessional children.  The effort, level of play, and behavior exhibited isn’t tolerable.  One hopes that the result serves as a wake-up call that in the Champions League if you screw around you will lose, especially on the road against teams where legends are made on nights like tonight.  Zagreb deserved their win and Arsenal rightfully earned a poor loss thru unintelligent and unprofessional play.   A similar effort will likely be punished more severely against Chelsea.