Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Arsenal's Champions League Nightmare Continues

After losing their opening Champions League group game away to Dinamo Zagreb a few weeks ago Arsenal had to win at home to Olympiacos last night. There was no room for error with back to back games against Bayern Munich, but somebody forget to tell Arsene Wenger and his players. The night ended with a shambolic defeat against a team who had never won a game in England in their previous 12 attempts.

The team named before the game left us fans feeling a little anxious as Petr Cech was on the bench with David Ospina playing in goal. The boss chose a team which wasn't his strongest one for the defeat in Zagreb and the inclusion of Ospina showed he still wasn't treating the competition or the opposition with the required respect. We were told Cech had a knock, but he was able to sit on the bench which surely meant he had to be able to play.

Francis Coquelin returned just in time from injury in midfield at least with both Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini injured. Aaron Ramsey dropped to the bench as he was the only player to have played in each of the last three games and he possibly needed a break with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming in. There were a couple of changes in defence too with Gabriel Paulista and Kieran Gibbs coming in for Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal.

Whatever about Gabriel coming in I was surprised to see Monreal on the bench. You would be hard pressed to find an Arsenal fan who doesn't think Monreal has been Arsenal's best defender for quite a while now. I was more than surprised to see Monreal on the bench, but I still thought Arsenal had a strong enough team to get the win.

Olympiacos came into the game on the back of five wins out of five in their domestic league, but they were well beaten at home by Bayern in their first group game. They were underdogs on the night and it would take an exceptional performance from them to get anything from the game once Arsenal got into their stride. After the 5-2 win at Leicester on Saturday I fully expected to see Arsenal do just that to make amends for the opening defeat. 

Arsenal started reasonably well, but before long it was obvious they were very short of ideas. Gradually Olympiacos grew in confidence and their opening goal may have been a surprise, but not a shock knowing Arsenal. The fact that they played a large part in handing the goal to their opponents was hardly a surprise either.

Both Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny went for the same ball and managed to recover enough to block the ensuing shot for a corner. When the corner came in Arsenal were completely asleep and nobody marked the man on the edge of the box. His first time shot from the corner was deflected off Chamberlain past the helpless Ospina and Arsenal were behind.

They immediately upped their game with Alexis Sanchez getting stuck in and he quickly set up a chance for Theo Walcott. His finish wasn't great but the Olympiacos keeper made a mess of his attempted save and the scores were level. I hoped Arsenal had learned their lesson from the fright of going behind and would approach the game in a much more positive manner.

Almost immediately they were behind again when Ospina as good as threw the ball into his own net from a corner. He came too soon for the corner with the taker putting right it under the bar and tried to catch it as he back pedalled. All he could do was push the ball away and the official behind the goal confirmed the ball had crossed the line.

I couldn't understand why Ospina didn't just push the ball over the bar, but he took the difficult option and Arsenal trailed again. It was hard to know if the ball had crossed the line or not, but the insistence on using an official behind the goal rather than goal line technology means we'll never really know for sure. None of that can hide from the horrendous mistake Ospina made and the decision to play him ahead of Cech just had to be the wrong one.

Half time came and went and still Arsenal couldn't muster a head of steam to put Olympiacos under pressure. Koscielny went off with what looked like a hamstring injury which limited Arsenal's attacking options from the bench, but a look at the bench revealed how limited those options were anyway. The introduction of Ramsey a little later did the trick though and Arsenal turned the heat up almost instantly.

It didn't take long for the second equaliser to come and it was no surprise when Alexis got it. He headed in a lovely cross from Walcott and I thought surely Arsenal would now go on to take the three points. I couldn't have been more wrong though as they immediately pressed the incredibly huge self destruct button which they are so fond of.

Olympiacos broke forward and Arsenal panicked in defence. With Coquelin off the pitch the midfield neglected their defensive duties and Olympiacos had time and space to score their third goal. If it didn't hurt so badly it would almost have been funny, but there was still time for Arsenal to at least try to get back into the game.

The boss threw on his last sub with Joel Campbell replacing Hector Bellerin, but that move showed the lack of options we have. They huffed and puffed for the rest of the game, but never really put the pressure on the Olympiacos goal that was required. The only time I thought the team played with the tempo needed was when Ramsey came on and they were chasing their second equaliser.

The defeat leaves Arsenal in a precarious position in their group and needing to take points off Bayern or facing missing out on the knock out stages. Their chances of getting any points off Bayern were always going to be slim, but the two performances so far will only make it more difficult. They will have to win at home to Dinamo and away to Olympiacos too to have any chance, but I honestly think they're out of it already.

For me the team selection was wrong again as it was in Zagreb and those decisions stand squarely at the feet of the boss. He didn't put out his strongest team in either game and the lack of respect shown to the competition and the opposition backfired. I don't know if the players let that lack of respect get to them and thought they just had to show up in both games to win.

The excuse of Olivier Giroud's red card in the first game couldn't be used last night, but the consequences had an affect on the game as Giroud would surely have been a welcome option from the bench. Not having Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere or Tomas Rosicky available through injuries wasn't ideal either, but the squad has to be strong enough to deal with injuries. The failure to add quality in the summer transfer window besides Cech is surely the biggest failing of all considering the money Arsenal have available.

From the debacle of last night Arsenal have to play at home to the league leaders Manchester United on Sunday and they have to do an awful lot better in that game. United have had the better of Arsenal in the league for more years than I care to remember and that has to stop. The players owe the fans a performance after last night's debacle and nothing short of beating United should do on Sunday.

Of course the players have to take a huge amount of the blame for last night, but for me the manager has to bear even more. The team continue to suffer from the same failings season after season and yet those failings just do not seem to be addressed. The manager has to be able to get his players to defend better, but it just doesn't seem to be working.

I've always thought he was still the man for the job, but I'm increasingly beginning to think I could be wrong. I'm not going to be one of those constantly calling for his removal, but I can't say I'd be adverse to him calling it a day either. The team might still challenge for the league this season, but it's difficult to see how if they're capable of performances like last night.

Despite the vast amount of money in the English game English teams are performing worse each season in the Champions League. Something has to change at Arsenal and other clubs too if they're going to challenge again. I don't know if a change of manager is what's needed, but I think I'd be willing to give it a try.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

3 comments:

  1. Another defeat.When will it ever win the cl?I think Arsenal can't win the epl or cl as long as Wenger stays. This is because he wont change his philosophy of the beautiful game with the endless possession and passing.
    Teams know Arsenal like to have possession and indulge in merry passing until the sun sets.The speed of the attack is slow. Why?The players want to flick here and there and all over the place and still they want to thread a balll through a minefield of at least nine players.
    Wenger has lost the plot and must pay the price like all top managers who are more successful than him but have underperformed ie stop winning trophies.
    Another defeat to MU will be hard to swallow and believe me it could finally galvanise the board to warn him failure aint tolerated.

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  2. The 5-2 win was because the foxes didn't want to hit on the counter. In last night's game,Olympicos coiled like a cobra . They gave the gunners plenty of possession. As is usual the gunners engage in passing till eternity which is perfect .
    Wenger has been many times in this way and still persists in this style. The speed of attack aint there so the defenders know what to expect.
    In truth his tactics are one dimensional and frankly he shd have left Arsenal before the first cup win .I doubt he can get 4 points off BM although it aint impossible.
    Don't be surprised Arsenal finished bottom of the group. Then what?No team has a divine right to winning and cl soccer unless the ref gives you penalties every game.For Arsenal it aint good enough.Arsenal is a premium soccer brand name which has been allowed to
    deteriorate the last ten years.

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