A disappointing night, but plenty more to play for.

A disappointing night

by Tim Charlesworth

Two days ago, I eyed a tricky looking set of upcoming features and wrote an article for Untold about it.

My article tried to focus on the really important things to look out for, other than the obvious ones of whether we scored goals, and whether the opposition did.  After the match in Dinamo, I’m sure we would all welcome the chance to focus on something other than the result, so here is a review of the questions I asked, and what we have learnt so far:

Firstly, I can’t avoid observing that this tricky set of fixtures hasn’t started well, but actually, of the six, this is possibly the best one to lose (depending on how you feel about Carling v Totts).

Of the questions I asked, the most obvious one we now have answers to is the one about rotation – Wenger was prepared to gamble, and more than I expected him to.  My question over whether the rotation would work, was also answered.  Full marks for courage, less marks for achievement.  With the benefit of hindsight, Wenger gambled too much.

I must say, I was initially pleased when I heard the line-up for the Dinamo game.  I thought it was a bold gamble, and indicated Wenger’s confidence in his squad.  I was expecting to see 2-3 changes tonight, but we got 6.  The goalkeeper change really surprised me – are we going to see Ospina in all cups including the CL?.  I expected only one change at fullback, and the use of Arteta really surprised me (in my original article, I considered this rotation unlikely)

Looking at the longer term implications of the game:  I expect we will still qualify, but will probably have to play full strength teams right to the end of the group, and this will have knock on effects for domestic fixtures.  We are also likely to come second in the group, although you could argue we were favourites to do that anyway.  Second and third is likely to be a battle between us and Dinamo, and in the CL group stage, head to head results matter.

So Theo’s goal could be surprisingly valuable in the case that we tie with Dinamo and beat them at home (not that unlikely).  If this happens, the away goal, and the reduction of the deficit to one goal could be important.  We play Dinamo on matchday five, and this could also be a tactical advantage.

Unfortunately, I also have to observe that confidence will also suffer going into a big game on Saturday (Chelsea’s resounding victory may also be unhelpful in this regard).

In terms of the other ‘real questions’ identified in my original article:

Coquelin: Unfortunately reinforced how good he is, by how much we missed him.  Looked good when he came on as well, and set up Walcott’s goal with a typical piece of athletic and aggressive play.  Arteta’s form is a worry.  Many fans have expressed doubts about Arteta as a DM backup and unfortunately those concerns looked real tonight.  Let’s hope Arteta improves as the season goes on and he gets more minutes.

Walcott:  could hardly have done better in terms of conversion rate (100% I think).  He also constantly looked dangerous.   He looks, just a little bit, more like a ‘real 9’ after this game and his impact from the bench.  Showed the kind of great finish we know he is capable of.

Gabriel:  Looked fantastic .  Massive presence, great defending and tackling.  He made one mistake at the end, but this was a calculated risk by a man chasing the game, I think.  I’m really interested to see whether the BFG can get his place back (other than by rotation).

Ozil:  Looked good in patches.  He threatened to turn in a dominant performance at the start of second half, but then he fell short and seemed to drift out of the game a bit.


  • The Ox looked poor;
  • Sanchez did OK, without setting the world alight.  Sanchez’s form is slightly worrying, and the ‘sophomore effect’ still seems like a possibility, but really its too early to tell.  He did some good things such as the goal assist and a lovely pass to Ozil that looked onside to me.
  • Giroud was obviously disappointing, and he will feel hideous, but he was harshly dealt with by the referee, and did OK whilst he was on the field.
  • Bosscielny looked good, albeit not his best performance.  I don’t think he really could have done anything about the second goal.  That was a good leap by a player with momentum on his side.

So let’s set aside the result, on the grounds that you can’t read too much into a single result, especially when a red card is involved in an away game.  Overall, the answers to the big questions were quite encouraging.   Most of the answers were good.  Wenger may have slightly overdone it on the rotation, but I would rather see over-rotation than under-rotation (as a gymnastics coach would say).  Overall, on balance, this match actually produced evidence that we will have a good season.  Chins up Gooners.  Mood will soon change if we get a good result on Saturday.


  • 17 September 1943: Wally Barnes joined Arsenal to play for them in the wartime league.  The story is that  Portsmouth’s scout in 1937 was on a cycling trip, stopped for a rest, saw a game going on in a local field and decided to have a look noticed Wally asked if he wanted to turn pro.  Wally turned him down.
  • 17 September 1955: Wally Barnes last appearance on anniversary of joining the club.  He played 267 league games, winning both the League and the FA Cup with the club.


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17 Replies to “A disappointing night, but plenty more to play for.”

  1. For once in my life I thought right from the start, our build up in attack seemed very laboured. Whether it was because of a fairly pronounced rotation I know not. Perhaps it was complacency due to Zagreb’s appalling record against English clubs.
    Somehow though, our shape or performance simply did not look right.
    In my view, Giroud should never have been sent off. Arsene should have subbed him after the first yellow card as an obvious precaution. A schoolboy error which I’m sure he regrets now.
    Of course all is not lost. A wake-up call has been given and Arsenal are quick learners. 😉

  2. Yes, certainly a bad night. I have no issue with rotation, these non first eleven players are going to be needed and have to be bought up to speed, but as Wenger said of last night, it just didnt work. Arteta looked like what he is, a senior player coming back after a long injury spell with a lack of game time, only 1 way around that. He is a clever player, and will get a lot better.
    My chief concern, as mentioned in the previous post, think we need to be a lot more proactive with some of these refs, we could all see what was going to happen, though highly unfortunate, maybe Giroud should have been better prepped on that front, or taken off. But he is human, and that is hindsight. Wenger of all people should be aware of what some of these refs are like.
    But all is not lost, we can out-perform Olympiakos and get the better of DZ in the home leg, when I expect us to be much more like ourselves, as long as they dont do another Monaco.
    And less naivety, please, possession does not guarantee results, those boys should know that.

  3. Really sound analysis.

    One thing I’d add is that when discussing Arteta, and all players as it goes, I always want to see the distinction made between errors and things beyond a player’s control.

    Arteta’s pace is not something he can control, so if that costs us in a game the error, if there is one, is not with him. This has been a huge issue with us for years because, very unusually for a top team, we had three mainstays of the team who are not at all quick.

    Interestingly, Chelsea had two last year and won the league by a convincing margin. This proves well that it is not essential for every player to have good pace and that if a team is functioning well that inherent problem, a mechanical one as I see it, can be covered for and, for the most part, not even be a problem. A player’s strengths are at the fore- and I swear Arteta was passing well yesterday- and the weaknesses are barely apparent. The true beauty of team sports

    What did it mean yesterday to have Arteta paired with Cazorla? It meant they could not make up a distance if one opened up, that they were vulnerable to even a small positioning error or good piece of play by an opponent. Most of all it meant that the margin for error elsewhere becomes very small- i.e. it was essential for the rest of the team to try cover for that lack of pace. Two quick centre backs, a fast left back and an ultra-fast right midfielder give you a reasonable chance of doing so.

    The goal was textbook, one or both of Arteta and cazorla, who were in a decent position on the field at that point, made a small error, and, despite trying, couldn’t close the gap; a decent bit of play from the opposition was involved, I think; it left a player with time to pick a pass, and unfortunately Debuchy was way over and the Ox was not in position to cover.

    Crucial to that is what the Ox’s instructions were before the game. If lots of emphasis was given about the need to cover that area, it means both that we had accepted beforehand less of an attacking threat from the Ox, and that it was a pretty big mistake on his part. If that emphasis wasn’t there, his mistake was a much smaller one.

    I hoped Coquelin’s emergence would prompt the prioritisation of always having a player like him available- in short, someone with good legs, a big appetite and aptitude for defensive work in midfield, and running power. It disappointed me a lot that this didn’t happen. But-and this is crucial- i largely talked myself around, because I accepted both the difficulty of the market and the difficulty we have accommodating all our good midfielders. So i don’t change my opinion on that.

    All i can say is that the risk was always abundantly clear- we have that big vulnerability in the absence of Coquelin, through injury or the need for rest- and yesterday it bit. Would probably have been fine if we’d scored when we were looking pretty good, or if the Ox * had seen his first duty as covering back, but unfortunately it didn’t work out like that.

    I hate it that Arteta is unfairly maligned for it. He can move as fast as he can, same for me, Messi, anybody. Same as Pirlo for the last five years or even his whole career. Alonso, too. Similarly, it got to me hearing Keown from the first whistle, clearly with certain ideas at the forefront of his mind, make endless suggestions Giroud should be moving more and faster.

    * He’s far from alone. What else explains the giant turnover of wide players at chelsea other than the high, unrealistic even, demands with that modern system to get loads out of your wideman offensively while still requiring a high level of defensive work and cover.

  4. Well said Tim good balance , think most agree
    we should still qualify we used to the set backs now
    It’s the next stage we all fear .
    I was deemed negative for suggesting i would
    Take a draw before kick off , but all Euro games
    now are possible banana skins , Chelsea now will
    be very interesting and again I’d gladly take a draw .

  5. Good article Tim, just what the doctor ordered for a day like today. I agree with most of your points, but can’t really fault Ooooooospina for much, he’s a class act and has never let us down. He deserves the game time and is a safe pair of hands.
    Last night shows what an eye for talent AW has (as if we really needed convincing) but with all due respect to Debuchy, Gibbs and Arteta who all showed a bit of ringrust, it proves the value of Bellerin, Monreal and Coquelin. Real pace and a safety net that Gilberto would be proud of. Biggest positive of the performance for me though was Gabriel, his best game yet and I suspect we have unearthed a real gem here. We now have 3 top class centre backs and while Per still provides a leadership dimension, Gabriel could well be the Bellerin of 2015/16.
    Hopefully Chelski will feel the backlash on Saturday.

  6. I don’t see how the manager could reasonably have taken Giroud off so early in the match. It would have looked to Giroud as if the manager had no faith in him and could have knocked his confidence. Players have got early yellow cards before and haven’t been taken off. The fact is, the second yellow card was unjustified.

  7. I only listened so its hard to comment with any authority but I watched all our home CL matches last season and its seems to be we still haven’t learned as a team/squad how to play in Europe. Dynamo were up for it (and declared the fact before the game. Patience would have brought us a point at least and probably all three as the home side tired and our superior fitness levels came in to play in the last 15. Instead we over-committed and gave away a silly first goal.
    We were profligate in front of goal early on but I can put that down to early season rustiness – the goals will come. so all the more reason to keep a clean sheet.
    I would have kept Cech in goal – to change 3 of the back 5 away from home was a risk , and one that backfired.

    As for M.Giroud. As harshly as the ref treated him there’s no conspiracy here – he pissed off the ref, he made a stupid and unnecessary tackle and he let down his team-mates. It’s not the first time but it has to be the last. Frankly, love him as I do he not a good enough striker to be able to get away with that sort of behaviour, just like Ches was not good enough to get away with his antics during and after Soton last season.

  8. Tim, good article.

    Personally I have never been a fan of rotation, one or two players is fine but not half a team. I certainly don’t like seeing the defensively line messed with. When you look at most very successful teams, you see they mantain a consistent back four and don’t usually mess around too much. All teams have to gel and when you play with familiar team mates, you get a fluent team perfromance. Not a fan of wholesale changes. (I read somewhere that Chelsea last season hardly rotated their team and in fact their back four players played virtually every Premier League game).

    The Manager has never been a fan of rotation, apart from the League Cup of course, which isn’t really one of our targets. He has come under fire from the media and members of the Wenger Out lobby for not rotating and resting players. I wonder how much of that influenced his decison?

    Or perhaps Wenger decided that we have a more realistic aim of the Premier League title. If this is the case I can understand his reasons for making so many changes. What certainly would have been on his mind was the fact that unlike Chelsea, who had an easy home game, we were travelling away to a team unbeaten in 41 games. With a game disgracefully scheduled for Saturday lunch time, Arsenal players would have a more testing game and less recovery time due to the travelling. A similar thing happened to us when we had Man City away on yet another Saturday lunch time, with City having had a home Champs league fixture on the Tuesday and us away on the Wednesday! We looked leggy in that game. I have no idea why we are made to play on Saturday lunch time after a Champions League game, that is totally wrong and unfair on the away team. That’s twice that’s happened to us.

    Yesterday was a disappointing result and performance but shit happens, as they say. Pick ourselves up and dust ourselves down and move on. Starting with Chelsea Saturday, the first of a run of tough games which will tell us a lot I suspect.

  9. Tom
    This might come as a surprise to you but I would like to say sorry for a very distasteful, abusive comment I made about you the other day which I immediately regretted. I just want to say there’s no justification whatsoever for me to have said something like that, and sincerely apologise to you for that.

    And to the rest of the readers here I hope you forgive me for using such language on this respectable blog.

  10. Very well reasoned points Tim. I still feel Giroud was severely punished for something we see 10 or 20 in a single match.

  11. Don’t think we could have gone full out in that game because of the next game Chel$, who got a big boost themselves! But Zagreb (ref 🙁 ) were closing down and quick, if we were also doing that we would be losing much energy.

    I wonder if these game are set on these days to cause this immense pressure and toil on the teams, a game every 2-3 days for a short period sure does.

    Anyway, on to Sat earlies; the well deserved rest did not pan out for some of our players, but now they should all be ready for a good win and a boost in confidence themselves by beating Chel$ 🙂

  12. Excellent article, with one footnote: I still believe our biggest threat for second spot is Olympiacos. Gibbs is my biggest worry.

    @nicky – actually, Dinamo were part of one of the biggest robberies I’ve ever seen in 1997. They played Newcastle in the CL play-offs. Newcastle won the first game 2:1 (two goals from Beresford) and took a lead in the second leg after dodgy penalty that saw Goran Juric, Dinamo captain, sent off. Dinamo made a come-back and earned extra-time even if Urs Meier did everything to keep Newcastle afloat (including missing Asprilla’s elbow in Dario Simic’s head). Unfortunately, Asprilla created a goal for Ketsbaia in 120th minute of the game.

  13. Al
    No apologies necessary.
    I never hold any grudges against other fellow Arsenal fans regardless how heated or not some of our exchanges get.

    Football is all about passions whether you play it, watch it or just discuss it.


  14. If AW had limited the changes to 2 or 3 players and got same result, some would still have complained about not giving other players a chance.
    If we had won the match, I don’t know if anybody would have complained about the players. The fact is rotation is a must in our next 4 matches either deliberate or forced. I rather prefer a deliberate rotation than forced. This is football and nothing is guaranteed. Bayern didn’t look like getting anything from Olympiakos until late in the second half. A little thing could change the outcome of a game.
    Well some said Chelsea would win the CL sacrificing the Epl in the process. We’ll see to that on Saturday.
    I also think our schedule of Wed – Sat and manure Tue- Sun is a pointer to some of the things not right in the Epl.

  15. Good article. Interesting also that wrt rotation (“Full marks for courage, less marks for achievement.”) it is almost exactly the sentiment expressed in the review of the match on Le Grove (regularly slagged off on this site) whereas this article is praised. Equally, everyone is proud of Coquelin, but most sensible people are concerned about what happens when he doesn’t play. I sometimes think the differences between Arsenal fans are not as great as is made out. Yes there are a few headcases who want to have a go at Wenger come what may, but most people are quite accepting of the current situation.

  16. Firstly let me nail my colours to the mast. I agree with you Tim and thus with Arsene also that this was the right game to use rotation. DZ are in a very weak league which they have won 11 times on the trot and yet gone on to show how poor they are in Europe. Even the match stats from Wednesday support the rotation decision. We controlled the match with nearly double the possession, more shots on target, more shots off target and more corners even though we were down to ten men for more than half the game.

    Whether the total number was right is a moot point. But I thought both fullbacks was a right decision because they already look a little rusty and that will only get worse without first team game time. Similarly but perhaps even more so with Arteta if he is to be back up for Coquelin. His pace is what it is so match fitness is an imperative if at all possible. Giroud is an obvious for Walcott whom we must want to stretch and get behind an ageing and not very mobile centre of defence for Chelsea. The Ox for Ramsey was also a probable to try to maintain bringing the Ox on. There would even be a case for Campbell for Alexis to try to rest and bring to top form our star from last season. All these comments are pre-match and so I must help try to analyse what went wrong on the night.

    Firstly although I recognize some validity in saying a lot of our possession was a return to the sterile and sideways passing at the back that used to irk us all. However we were away and DZ showed almost no interest in pressing or seeking quick transitions. From the first moments they scuttled back to set up 8 or even 9 men in two well organised lines thus giving themselves excellent defensive shape rather than anything more adventurous or risky.

    On individual matters, the Ox was disappointing except for their first goal when he was disgraceful. Both Kos and Gabriel had been rightly pulled across to give cover. It was the DZ left back who saw the space created and whilst Ox had drifted back his mind was clearly not focussed and he only just got back in time to knock the rebound off Ospina into his own net!!

    Giroud I thought incredibly unlucky. He was almost certainly right that he was fouled by a defender whom he had substantially out-jumped and who then backed into him whilst he was in the air to make sure he could not land properly. Even his dissent was not in your face screaming but only showing his depth of frustration. On his sending off I have looked at it several timesand Giroud clearly got the ball first. The DZ player came across him at some pace and took the leg that was still outstretched before rolling around in a dying swan impression. I don’t think it correctly called as a foul let alone a yellow card. And I did wonder even before the game whether an East European ref was an appropriate choice.

    The poor refereeing was compounded by one of his assistants constantly getting off sides wrong against Arsenal including their first goal which even the match commentator thought should have been off side and Ozils ‘goal’ which should have stood particularly if benefit of considerable doubt had been given to the attacking side.

    So in summary certainly not our best day at the office but we deserved much better than we got and equally surely no real grounds for the gloom and doom merchants to have another field day.

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