16 September, 2015

Arsenal Champions League Perspective, Game 1: Why the fuck do they bother?

To make a change from having to review every match played over a weekend, the task of then having to review the Champions league games also quite frankly filled me with dread. It's already a struggle to get the weekly review out and doubling the workload didn't seem like fun. So I decided to only cover it from the perspective of the team I follow, Arsenal. And, judging by tonight's game, I won't have to do these extra reports for long.

I really should just re-print the title around 900 times with the occasional "No work and no shins makes Jack was a g a dull boy...." thrown in for good measure. It's a curious thing to want to constantly qualify for a tournament knowing we'll get dumped repeatedly out of it in less and less glorious fashion. It's like an annual race to the bottom to see how badly we can both mis-fire on the pitch and shoot ourselves in the foot. Of course there's the financial element to qualifying but since we no longer rely on such things anymore it really makes the last two forays into Europe quite remarkable in their combinations of exceptional play and utter howlers.

Indeed, it makes you think that if this is how it's going to be in Europe from now on, as it shows no signs of changing, why bother killing ourselves to get top four for a near ritual bout of humiliation? For that's what this result was, humiliating. No two words about it. Whether it was down to complacency, bad travel or a poor team choice is up to you to decide. But there's really only evidence for the first option there. Premier league teams travel in planes decked out better than most peoples fucking houses and the team picked tonight isn't a far cry from the one we expect to challenge for the premier league title this season. Yet tonight, against a team who basically own their domestic league and aren't anywhere near the individual quality Arsenal have, Arsenal turned in easily the worst performance in a long time.

The same was true for most of the English teams. The cream of the Premier league seemingly unable to deal with decent teams who show up and play football. At least Chelsea know how to put away a team they should beat. Should Arsenal play like this again on Saturday it'll be a fucking pasting.

The game started brightly enough though. Arsenal controlled the early possession and generated a chance in the 8th minute that Giroud should have put away (surprise fucking surprise). In all fairness to him, and this will be the only time I'll say that in this column, he arrowed his header top corner and it took a fine save to keep the ball out. Debuchy and Chamberlain combined nicely down the wing ten minutes later to present him with another header that hit the post and when the re-bound fell straight to him he couldn't lift it over the prone keeper who blocked it. Then Zagreb, set up to soak up and counter, ran forward on the 23rd minute. Switching the ball around quite tidily, Pivaric caught Debuchy napping and Chamberlains' tracking back was laughable. Pivaric fired straight at Ospina who could only parry the ball onto the knee of the oncoming Chamberlain and the ball wound up in the net. It was gloriously typical Arsenal goal to concede.

It got worse on the 40th minute when Giroud, having been previously booked for dissent, lunged a clumsy challenge just outside the box and received a second yellow and walked. While the first yellow is debatable he can have no issues with the second. He was no-where near the ball and his foot was almost knee-height. After enduring a bad time in the press lately surrounding his ability and getting absolutely ripped apart in the French media for his international performances, Giroud had an opportunity here to show that he's a team player and still has a lot of value. Instead, he acted like a petulant child the entire game and got himself sent off in 40 minutes after missing some easy goals. The press will be fucking after him tomorrow, believe that. He better keep away from the internet because the knives are out and he's ,well and truly, going to get it. If you thought "Arsenal need strikers" fanfare had reached it's nadir you ain't seen nothing yet. They'll be scaling new peaks of obnoxiousness. And Giroud handed them all the ammunition they would ever need tonight. He'll need to smash home 30 goals to shut the bastards up now.

Having said that though, to a man, Arsenal were pure shit tonight. Playing with almost zero energy and guile, they relied so heavily on Ozil and Alexis to carry the team to the promised land it was embarrassing. This would be bad enough normally, had it worked, but both those players decided to put in sub-par shifts themselves and, after the goal, Zagreb just sat back waiting for the counter. After ten men, they virtually put the kettle on and waiting for us to shoot ourselves again.

Within a minute of the restart Zagreb hit the post and then they got the opening they were waiting for on the 57th minute, a free-kick lofted into the box caused absolute mayhem (it is Arsenal after all) and Fernandes headed home. It was plainly clear what Zagreb were doing, soaking up pressure while nullifying Alexis and Ozil and then countering fast down the wings. Ospina had to Neuer the ball out a few times as a result. Then Arsenal threw caution to the wind and switched to a flat back three to chase down the game. With twelve minutes to go Alexis threaded a through ball and Walcott finally missed the offside trap Zagreb had been springing all night and he dispatched calmly past the keeper. Not one player celebrated the goal.

This result was atrocious. Made even worse due to the fact it was against a team set up to counter so obviously and whose players were almost content to blast the ball into the stands at every chance (mind you, this is some achievement given how far away the fucking stands were). Quite how Arsenal bounce back from a result like this will show if this team truly do have the spine to contest in either this league or the Premier league but this humbling will either make or break this team. Given Chelsea's barnstorming result at home with Tel Aviv will no doubt be some cause for concern for Wenger. He'll have to pick up a demoralised team and pit them against an old foe that still holds a lot of hoodoo over his players. Arsenal have Olympiakos next in the Champs league at the end of September. We miss out on three points there, we're fucked. Well and truly fucked.
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