This season was supposed to be the season that Arsenal kicked on from back to back FA Cups and made serious challenges for the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League. However, reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
Last night, Arsenal travelling fans were forced to endure a humiliating 2-1 defeat to the hands of Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb in their Stadion Maksimir. Zagreb may be the MaxTV Prva Liga champions and boast a record of being undefeated for 35 domestic games, as well as willing their domestic league the last 10 years, however they should have been no match for a top tier club of Europe like Arsenal. The Croatian league was only set up in 1992. Zagreb had never beaten a Premiership club in their history before this result.
Despite this, it was Zagreb who looked the more professional outfit after Arsene Wenger appeared to underestimate the opposition by playing a depleted team – making six changes from the team that beat stoke 2-0 last weekend. Kieran Gibbs came in for Nacho Monreal, Mathieu Debuchy for Hector bellerin, David Ospina for Petr Cech, Mikel Arteta for Francis Coquelin, Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain for Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud for Theo Walcott.
And it was to be Giroud who ultimately cost the team after receiving a second yellow and subsequent red card after just 40 minutes. He had already missed opportunities (including hitting the post) earlier in the game and looked tense. His first yellow was for dissent and his second for a petulant kick shortly after Chamberlain’s own goal for the home side.
In the second half, Wenger’s team emerged with 10 but conceded a goal from a corner after Gibbs jumped but ducked to let Junior Fernandes nod home at the near post. Wenger made a belated three man substitution on the 64th minute which included Walcott entering the fray. He went on to score to make the game 2-1.
Question need to be asked about Arsene Wenger’s team selection and tactical set-up. Every away game must be taken seriously in the UEFA Champions League, even more so on a cold night in Croatia surrounded by the hostility of the home support. However, the Arsenal boss made six changes to the first team and played in the exact manner that he would play in any other game.
Like in many games where teams are able to get the upper-hand over The Gunners, Zagreb were able to take in Arsenal’s 61% possession and counter to great effect. Dinamo did their homework and Arsenal appeared to have not done so. The opening game is vital for a team to get out of the starting blocks.
Speaking on Sky Sports news, ex-Arsenal Ray Parlour said:
“I think you should play your best team, especially the first game away from home you need those three points on the board. That really sets you off on the right frame of mind into the next three or for games.”
Talking about the decision to leave certain players such as goalkeeper Petr Cech out of the starting lineup, he went on to say:
“I could never understand goalkeepers, why they’re rested, because he’s been involved in massive games in the Champions League, he’s been there and done it Cech.
“You look at the situation now it’s going to be tough.”
Fingers will point towards the fact that Wenger failed to sign a striker or defensive midfielder in the summer transfer window, with Arteta looking jaded yesterday and the team only scoring six goals (two own goals) in six games. This a team that boasts the likes Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez.
Wenger will say that a lack of transfer activity didn’t lose them the game, however when you cannot work out who your main striker is and you are subbing off your replacement to sub on the guy he’s replaced, you have to be able to take responsibility for the summer’s inaction.
Arsenal go to Chelsea on Saturday 17th for their next Premier League fixture.