By Walter Broeckx
I couldn’t do my usual match report form for this match and will not be able to do so for the next matches because of other obligations. But I did see the match live on a stream not of the greatest quality and with a few times it going down so I might have missed a few things.
First the team changes. Ospina in goal and at the back we had Debuchy and Gibbs playing their first match of the season. Arteta replaced Coquelin and Giroud came back in the team in the place of Walcott. I sense that the Chelsea match was very much (maybe too much) on the mind of Wenger before the start of this match.
But what I did see was that Arsenal started well on the front foot. We were rather fluent I thought at first. And we did get some chances.
Giroud heading a corner to the top corner of the goal but the Zagreb keeper managed to palm it out of his goal. And a bit later again a header from Giroud against the post and then the ball fell back in front of his feet but the keeper was lying centimeters away so he couldn’t get the ball over the keeper. It was all Arsenal and Zagreb never really came neer to the Arsenal goal. It was very much a match waiting for the first Arsenal goal up to then.
What I also noticed was the fact that Giroud was having difficulties with the way the ref handled his challenges. I think we saw here the difference between the PL style of refereeing where much more is allowed most of the time and certainly in the duels between the strikers and defenders and the style of the rest of the world. Giroud obviously was getting frustrated as each time he tried to go for the bal in the air he was whistled back. Sometimes correct but also a few times not correct.
You could see his frustration grow and when he showed dissent even in a rather mild way that in the PL would even not been noticed by the refs he got a yellow card. Those are stupid cards to get. If as a player you feel the ref ‘has it in for you’ then the best thing to do is to keep low profile and just shrug your shoulders when the ref punishes you wrongly.
And adding to his frustration will certainly have been the goal from Zagreb that came out of nothing. There was a gap on the right hand side where Debuchy was a bit too much central and Oxlade-Chamberlain missed the run of an opponent and suddenly a Zagreb player was one on one with Ospina. Ospina did amazingly well to block the effort but then the onrushing Oxlade-Chamberlain saw the ball bouncing against his knee and ending up in the net. Completely against the run of play at that moment but if things go wrong, the sometimes go horribly wrong.
Back to the story of the ref and Giroud. Romanion home referee Ovidiu Hategan who will have a great career at Uefa one day was clearly looking for Giroud for a while. And when Giroud committed a foul the ref saw his chance there and had his red card out of his pocket before the yellow card. A foul like more happened in this match without a card was given. A sending off that was in the ref his head for a while and from that moment on the match went from difficult to impossible.
The goal had taken away a lot of confidence with some players. The body language of the unlucky Oxlade-Chamberlain was telling the story.
Right after the start of the second half Zagreb hit the post and Arsenal had a lucky moment. Arsenal tried to do something back in the second half but we didn’t create much apart from a few half chances and lots of running offside by our forwards. Zagreb played on the counter and only a good block from Debuchy prevented a possible second goal. The resulting corner was headed in by a Zagreb player and you knew that this match was over with Arsenal having to play with 10 man.
Arsenal tried to get something going but our passing was not good enought at times and we ran a few times too much offside. Wenger brought on Theo, Campbell and Coquelin for Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gibbs.
Theo was able to score a goal with some 12 minutes to go but apart from a few half chances we didn’t really came close to scoring a second goal. Ospina showed he can also play a bit of football with coming out of his penalty area, winning the ball, dribbling a player and another one.
At the end it was a bad result. A bit like the result at the first day of the PL this season. We started well enough, didn’t finish our early chances and paid for it in cash. The way the ref handled the Giroud situation didn’t really help and I could see the sending off coming from a long distance but I really think that most players and managers don’t think a ref will really push it that far. Unless you play Barcelona and you expect it to be of course.
The good thing is that a few players got a run out and it showed a bit. Our full backs were clearly not as good as the ones that play week in week out. I know they can be as good if they would play more. I guess they will get a new chance next week at Tottenham. Arteta also was rather rusty and certainly wasn’t as pressing as Coquelin usually is. But I really cannot fault Wenger for resting Coquelin for this match.
A combination of bad finishing, bad luck with their first goal and a ref wanting to send Giroud off was too much on the day to overcome Zagreb. We know now that we will have to step it up next time against Olympiacos in the CL.