Zagreb 2-1 Arsenal: mental collapse proves costly

After a loss I almost always swear and say I won’t write a review. The truth is, I will. I’ll even go as far as to say you are more likely to see a review of a defeat from me than a review of a resounding win. I’ll explain why.

A little over two years ago I started a blog, which served a dual purpose of relieving my relatives of constant babbling and keeping my English alive. I wrote posts almost every day (definitely every two days). Their quality was, let’s just say, below par. I didn’t care at the time: I knew I was just a novice learning his trade, I didn’t have a lot of readers and I mostly wrote them for myself. It was my outlet, a place where I could express everything I wanted, my grief included.

Fast-forward two years and a lot of things changed. The quality of my posts improved, my audience grew (thanks, Dave) and I’m, in fact, now writing for a website, not just for my blog. But one thing remained: I still use my posts as an outlet, as a means of expressing anger, joy, sadness, frustration or whatever else is on my mind.

Which brings me to my original point: I’m more likely to be here after a loss because this is a place where I can speak my mind freely and know my thoughts will resonate with people. The fact I can share my grief or, at the very least, just put all that bothers me in writing, helps ease the burden. So here goes my review of our yesterday’s debacle.

Unhappy Arsene

The rotation

Wenger made six changes to the side that dominated Stoke. Ospina, Debuchy, Gibbs, Arteta, Oxlade and Giroud all came in.

After the defeat Arsene was accused of rotating too much. I presume the same people would have chastised the Frenchman had he put out our strongest squad, especially if these players looked legged against Chelsea.

That’s not the important thing for me, however. The important bit is that the players who came in should have been more than capable of beating Dinamo Zagreb. Just look at who came in: all, bar Ospina, were starters a year ago. The Colombian, meanwhile, was a part of a team which had a storming end to the season.

The problem

“The problem is not the problem, the problem is your attitude to the problem”.

Our yesterday’s problem was not Dinamo Zagreb. Our problem was that of mentality. We didn’t turn up. We expected to walk the game. We thought Dinamo would be easy prey given their Champions League travails. And we were wrong.

I always fancy Arsenal’s chances in any game as long as we fulfil two simple requirements: turn up with the right attitude and play 11v11. It’s when we fail to meet either problems arise. Yesterday we failed to meet both.

I’ll return to the subject of Giroud a bit later and focus my attention on our mentality for the time being. It’s the second time we turned up with that attitude this season and the second time we lost. You see the simple connection? Twice we were overconfident and twice we were punished for our arrogance. Yesterday we were immobile and pedestrian and not only the new faces were to blame. Bar Gabriel, Koscielny and probably Ozil, everyone underperformed hugely (Theo gets an honourable mention for a well-taken goal).

Theo scores a consolation goal

Theo scores a consolation goal

Alexis was invisible all night (only 2 shots, both off target, only 36 attempted passes), Cazorla went into hiding (0 shots, only 2 chances created, both from set-pieces), leaving Arteta to mop up the mess, Gibbs ducked for the second (he fucking DUCKED), however it was Oxlade who is my pick for worst performer. His numbers in full:

  1. 40 touches (in 60 minutes). Ospina had 30, for comparison’s sake
  2. 1 shot (blocked)
  3. 17/22 passes. Only 17 completed passes in 60 minutes
  4. 1 chance created
  5. 0/4 crosses
  6. 2/4 successful dribbles
  7. No tackles or interceptions (even attempted). Remember, he was supposed to help out Debuchy
  8. One runner he failed to track
  9. One own goal

Yes, I know the own goal itself was an accident, however, Oxlade should have done better before the ball rebounded off him into the net.

A frustrating night for the Ox

A frustrating night for the Ox

The case of Olivier Giroud

He didn’t deserve to be sent off, simple as that. Two bookings for dissent and a flailing leg respectively were as soft as it gets. Yes, I would like Olivier to be less articulate on the whole and more cautious when already on a yellow, but I think we know he would not have been sent off for these things in the Prem. As much as we like to moan about Premier League referees, their standard isn’t as low as it currently is in Europe and definitely not as low as that of our yesterday’s official.

However, what I liked far less than the sending off was the reaction of our fans. Olivier was immediately accused of every cardinal sin the fans could have come up with and I didn’t like it. Not one bit.

For starters, he actually had a very good period prior to being sent off. He forced the keeper into a spectacular save from a corner, hit the post from the only chance Oxlade created that game and did everything in his power to drive the rebound in. He held up play as usual, battled up front on his own with no help from teammates and movement between the lines, so labelling him a donkey for the performance is lazy and inaccurate, to put it mildly. I’ve dealt with the sending off above.

A harsh sending off is topped off by undesrved critisism

A harsh sending off is topped off by undeserved criticism

We also shouldn’t forget that out of the three goals scored in the League, two came from Olivier Giroud. One he created himself with a beautiful shot, the other was from a big chance. Ollie only took one big chance out of five in five games, but before you start moaning he’s a bad finisher, I’ll say that:

  1. He is actually at 20% conversion rate (which is not at all bad for a Prem striker)
  2. Theo fluffed 4 chances out of 4 against Stoke ALONE, yet didn’t get half the critique the Frenchman got

So get off Giroud’s back. If we are to be successful this season, we need Ollie on top form, which can only happen if he knows he has our backing.

The aftermath

We knew from the beginning topping the group wouldn’t be easy. Topping any group with Bayern in it is not easy. In that sense yesterday’s result hasn’t changed much. I’m pretty sure we’ll still qualify. If we want to qualify from the first spot we still need at least 4 points from two games against Bayern. What changed is that we no longer have the luxury of slipping up against others.

Now we put ourselves together, get our regulars back into the starting XI and go to Stamford Bridge with the right attitude, Cordon off the area where our Champions League memories reside and focus on the Prem. We are on a decent run there.

That’s all from me for now. Back with a preview.

Until then

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5 Responses to Zagreb 2-1 Arsenal: mental collapse proves costly

  1. Sandya September 17, 2015 at 4:36 pm #

    Totally spot on mate, however i dont understand why we made the same mistakes twice. i understand for monaco we were too cocky, playing at home,had good run in the PL, so we thought we would destroy them easily.

    Dinamo zagreb in the other hand is a match we know how to play,what to anticipate, we learnt at least something from monaco ffs! Is it a mental thing? Because i know that our players could bring down any team any day, so the capability is there.

    Now we back again to our one & only issue : consistency. I know football player are human just like us, they have their ups & downs but if they can not handle it they just not deserved yet to go far in ucl, let alone to become ucl champion..long way to go mate…very very long

  2. Victor Thompson September 17, 2015 at 4:42 pm #

    Victor Thompson says:
    Hi Alex,

    Wrighty was correct. He has criticised AW in his article on Gooner News. The team was a shambles.I have condemned Wenger before this match for not signing a CF and a DM.

    When I saw the team sheet, I was flabbergasted. I could not see what shape he intended to play. He took Bellerin off and played Debuchy who was clearly off the pace. He took Coquelin off and replaced him with Arteta and played Ox on the wing. Ox started well but Arteta tucked himself into the midfield which left Debuchy exposed when Ox marauded upfield. When we lost the ball ( which was often) they poured through the gap between Ox and Debuchy. There was no interceptor in midfield. Arteta couldn`t cope.

    Gabriel and Kos were too far apart and there were gaps in the centre of the defence. Gibbs bombed up the wing and Santi was otherwise engaged trying to upholster the attack where Giroud was bouncing every ball back to Dynamo players. All of this left the team with no cohesion.

    As usual, when the world and his dog could see the problems, Wenger waited until well into the second half before it dawned on him that he had to make changes.

    As Gary Neville said; Wenger is either naive or arrogant. I think that he disrespected Dynamo Zagreb. Just what level of football did he think they were at when he played such a shambles of a team. Did he really think that that apology of a team would stroll through a European match?

    I know the players didn`t turn up, but this is not a new issue. It happens regularly. The point is AW appears not to see the symptoms early enough. He takes no action to change until it is too late. This is the third of three major mistakes he has made early in the season. 1. He didn`t sign a CF or DM. He put all his eggs in one basket in the transfer window and had no alternative. 2. He has failed to curb the slow ,slow, sideways slow routine the team gets into. He failed to alter anything in the West Ham game and could not find a solution to the parked bus. 3. He picked a rubbish team last night which had no balance and a glaring weakness in midfield which was made even more obvious when Coquelin replaced Arteta and plugged the hole. Thank god it wasn`t Bayern we were playing.


  3. DEW September 17, 2015 at 5:06 pm #

    I don’t agree in many places.

    1. There was too much rotation and there was no balance in the team. Some players are rested but others on the pitch had to give extra. so it is a lose – lose situation.

    2. It is soft red card but Giroud should be careful on the second one, everyone following that game has the feeling for his sending off, because he has committed fouls before the second yellow.

    3. Whenever Arsene underestimates teams or complacent the team loses.

  4. muzzammil September 17, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    kinda reminds of the you will never vlad it so good article.

  5. Astro September 17, 2015 at 7:34 pm #

    i like the post and it spot on the matter at hand. I don’t blame Wenger for rotating the team it just that our boys underestimated/underated Dinamo zagreb. normally the team selected should be able to hold theirs any day but that yesterday dey failed because they leave their selves in London. the like of Debuchy and Gibbs was not in the game and also Arteta.

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