I missed the first 14 minutes of the first half and had to leave the pub at half time to get to work so I only managed to soak up half an hour or so of Arsenal's defeat in Zagreb. So I am not going to be able to go into much depth on the game itself at this moment in time. I will more than likely force myself to watch that second half because well.. I am a glutton for punishment.
When I read the line up before kick off, I was very surprised with the amount of changes to the team. Surprised because it is unlike Arsène to ring in so many changes so early into a season. The Arsène we know tends to pick an 11 and stick with them so they can gel, develop partnerships until they are playing in automatic and also play there way into form. It is usually around the Christmas mark when Arsène flips open his book of rotation, so to see both full backs come in as well as Ospina behind then and Mikel Arteta in the defensive midfield position was somewhat of a surprise to me. Now before I go on any further with this I want to say that I fully understand the managers reasoning behind the changes. Playing away from home on a Wednesday in Croatia only to face Chelsea away from home on Saturday lunchtime is about as bad as it gets so playing your first 11 for both games would be a big risk and we already know how quickly injuries can surface but that said, I thought we let the air out of our own tyres by changing so many partnerships on the pitch.
Did Petr Cech need to be rested? Was it wise to play Mikel Arteta in his first start without the power and running of either Aaron Ramsey or Francis Coquelin? Was a midfield trio of Arteta, Cazorla and Özil too lightweight away from home against a team who score plenty of goals at home. The Full back and centre back partnerships were broken as were the full back and defensive midfield understanding.
The Zagreb goal was a perfect illustration of the team not communicating together.
Did Mathieu Debuchy need to drift over so close to Gabriel? But that is understandable as the Zagreb attack builds down the right but surely Oxlade-Chamberlain has to react quicker to the left back. Moments before that screenshot, he had a glance to see where he was and he can clearly see Debuchy leaving that space, he has to react much quicker. Even when he does put the burners on to get back, he halts his run just before the pass is made. Did he want to play offside? Or did he want to close down the passer instead? Who knows but it killed us, that extra second allowed the left back to squeeze in a shot which bounced back onto Ox and into the net.
There was talk of it being offside but it did not look that way
Funnily enough a similar goal mouth scramble happened at the other end of the pitch when the Ox crossed over to Giroud but instead of the rebound bouncing into the net from the base of the post, it bounced away to safety. Small margins my friends, small margins.
It was not Giroud's night, or his 40 odd minutes. The ball was not sticking when balls were played up to him and his link up play around the box wasn't as strong as it can be. He was getting calls against him and he let the referee know his frustration which resulted in a needless booking and it was that booking which ultimately got him sent off. In defence of the referee, it looked like a cynical kick on first viewing or maybe that was just my eyes.
Giroud was dismissed and we were a goal down, playing a team that had little chemistry. I left the pub not feeling very confident of us turning the game around.
I have seen the second goal and it wasn't very good from a defensive point of view. But when you change three of our back five you are hardly going to have the same stability. In fact watching parts of that first half game me a little confidence about our defending which seems a strange thing to say. The reason is that we hardly ever look so unorganised these days so it wasn't the norm to witness us look shaky.
Theo Walcott came on and scored a very good goal, making one of his trademark runs he was found by Alexis and his side foot finish found the far corner. One or two of those at Stamford Bridge on Saturday wouldn't go amiss.
Now I don't know how many chances we had in the second half or how close we came to equalising but losing your first CL group game means you are playing catch up. Arsène said post match that he didn't believe the changes were the reason for our defeat and maybe he is right but playing four players at the same time who haven't started a Premier League game this season can not have helped.
If Arsenal were playing West Ham at the Emirates last Saturday, I am sure we would have produced a far better performance than the one churned out on week 1. The players were not match fit enough to produce their best football, we could not have played the way we did against Stoke in August and it is the same for the likes of Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta and David Ospina.
Maybe it would have been wise to have approached the game differently, instead of trying to find fluency from a group of unready players and broken partnerships, maybe it would have been easier to play defensively, plug holes and not concede then we could have used the quality of Özil and Alexis on the break. But it is easy to say from behind a keyboard.
I am trying not to read too much into this game and hopefully it will mean very little when the last group game comes around. Let us hope we can turn it around but before all that, let us produce a much, much better performance at Stamford Bridge with what is likely to be a much stronger or at least match fit team.