Saturday 17 March 2018

Arsenal can't rely on Giroud: Five things we learned from Champions League defeat

Arsenal's French forward Olivier Giroud (L) leaves the pitch after receiving the second yellow car during the UEFA Champions League Group F football match between GNK Dinamo Zagreb and Arsenal
Arsenal's French forward Olivier Giroud (L) leaves the pitch after receiving the second yellow car during the UEFA Champions League Group F football match between GNK Dinamo Zagreb and Arsenal

Alistair Tweedale

Arsenal cannot rely on Olivier Giroud, Arsene Wenger needs to learn his lesson, and more from the defeat to Dinamo Zagreb.

When will Arsene learn?

Another team sitting back and allowing Arsenal to endlessly keep possession gave them all kinds of difficulty on the break. When will Arsene Wenger learn his lesson?

His team have already lost to West Ham and drawn with Liverpool at the Emirates this season, with both visitors enjoying most success when playing counter-attacking football.

A supposedly inferior Dinamo Zagreb had done their homework, and let Arsenal have the ball for long periods uninterrupted but still created better chances and looked by far the more threatening side. This Arsenal team has enough technical quality that they should be able to break down the likes of Zagreb, but more importantly they should be well aware of the risks of playing so high up the pitch. Mikel Arteta – who is plainly not, never has been and never will be a defensive midfielder – was stationed as the deepest player in the middle of the park yet, once again, he failed to provide sufficient cover to his defence. Francis Coquelin was understandably rested but Wenger cannot rely on Arteta as his back up.

Giroud cannot be relied upon

Yes, Arsenal should have signed a striker this summer, but now that they haven’t they need to make do with what they have, and that means giving Theo Walcott a sustained run in the side. Petulance and frustration got the better of the red-carded Olivier Giroud here, but he had already made it clear he would have little luck.

Walcott has scored 11 goals in his last 11 Premier League starts and added another from the bench in Zagreb. The Englishman is not the perfect striker, nor is he the final piece in the puzzle for Arsenal, but he is still a more reliable option than Giroud.


England should be worried about their Uefa ranking

£870 million was spent by Premier League clubs this summer and yet there are still glaring inadequacies when they play in Europe. Manchester United and City fell on Tuesday before Arsenal’s travails here, and there is the distinct chance of England dropping below Italy in Uefa’s rankings as soon as the season after next. And what are the consequences of that? Well, it would mean only three Champions League spots for 2017/18.

Here’s a layman's explanation of just how real that possibility is: Italy are less than five points behind England in the rankings; last season Italian clubs outperformed English teams in Europe to the extent that they were awarded 19 points to England’s 13.6. Therefore, a repeat of the Premier League’s failures last season coupled with Italy faring well again would see them swap places. A real worry, indeed.

Wenger needs to get his team talks right in Europe

How many times have Arsenal been left to fight an uphill battle in Europe over the last few years? Tame first leg defeats followed by rousing but ultimately futile recoveries have been a feature of recent campaigns and this was a single-game case in point.

It might not be typical of his usual approach, but one cannot help but think Wenger needs to get into his players’ heads that first and foremost they need to avoid doing anything stupid early on. It sounds mightily simplistic but they have shot themselves in the foot so many times in recent years that there is clearly something wrong. Stopping their opponents should have been the priority here, but once again Wenger set his team out irrespective of how his opponents would approach the game.

Gibbs gives timely reminder of England depth

24 hours after Luke Shaw suffered a double fracture of his right leg while on Champions League duty, Arsenal left-back Kieran Gibbs was given what is now a rare start on this European night, and he gave Roy Hodgson a much-needed reminder as to the extent of his options in that position.

Gibbs boasts an impressive reading of the game and in making four tackles and four interceptions in just 65 minutes he not only did much defensive work but also sparked Arsenal moves forward, too. Losing Shaw will have been a real blow to the England camp, but Gibbs is capable of winning his spot back at club level and could ease Hodgson’s concerns ahead of Euro 2016.

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