Arsenal made an absolute dog’s dinner of their opening group game in the Champions League and have already placed themselves under immense pressure even though there are still five games left to play.
With Chelsea on the horizon, Arsene Wenger made a number of changes, the biggest surprise being David Ospina replacing Petr Cech in goal. Resting Aaron Ramsey, Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin, Francis Coquelin and Theo Walcott, the boss brought Mikel Arteta back into the midfield. So many changes were always going to be a gamble against a side unbeaten in the last 41 games.
With half-empty stands located some three miles from the side of the pitch and a camera angle that made you think you were watching a game of Subbuteo, the ‘crazed atmosphere’ we were promised was more Anfield than Galatsaray with the Arsenal fans, located some 60 or 70 yards behind the goal the only constant noise throughout the whole game. Mostly.
Despite being promised a tougher game than what Stoke provided, Arsenal could have opened the scoring early on; Olivier Giroud’s header from a Santi Cazorla corner being brilliant saved before the same player contrived to hit the post from close range and then panic with the rebound from about a yard and a half out.
Arsenal were, once again, making the chances but still being far too wasteful.
Zagreb were happy to sit back and try to hit Arsenal on the break but they failed to apply much pressure when the Gunners had the ball which looked like it was going to be a dangerous tactic that would be punished sooner rather than later.
Except in true Arsenal fashion that wasn’t what happened.
Cut open playing a high line, Pivaric was played in and despite a fine save from David Ospina (if we ignore him parrying out instead of wide), Own Goal struck on the rebound.
It was an age-old story – Debuchy was too narrow, the Ox didn’t track back soon enough, only getting back in time to help the ball into the back of his own net and the Gunners were behind from the opposition’s first real chance. From missing two glorious chances to give themselves the lead, Arsenal found themselves really up against it.
Then it got worse.
With 40 minutes on the clock Giroud, frustrated all evening, and already on a yellow for dissent, was shown a second yellow for kicking a player in an absolutely brainless incident. It had been coming since his header had been saved early on and was a surprise to no-one.
That being said, the ref did have the option of just giving him a warning but had clearly taken a dislike to the Frenchman early on, refusing to give him any freekicks (or paying any attention when he was clearly hauled down in the box) and penalising him for the softest of offences.
Still, Oli gave him the chance and the ref gleefully took it.
It was a total disaster of a half.
The second period seemed like the first half bad would just get worse as with just a minute on the clock after the restart Zagreb hit the post when they perhaps should have scored.
Arsenal did find the back of the net in the 54th minute as Mesut Ozil slotted home after great work from Alexis and a delightful through ball from the Ox but the linesman flagged for offside in what looked like a very close call. We got no replays, so we’ll never know.
Just two minutes later Ozil was through again and again was flagged offside except this time we did get a replay and he was on. We were getting nothing from the officials.
Not that it mattered as a minute later, with Arsenal starting to look a lot brighter and more dangerous, they demonstrated how not to defend at a corner as they gifted Dinamo a second with Gibbs appearing to duck as Koscielny jumped behind Fernandes who simply nodded the ball into the net
It was a total shambles.
A rare triple substitution from Arsene saw the Ox, Arteta and Gibbs hooked and replaced by Theo, Le Coq and Joel Campbell who gave Arsenal some options up top and it was Theo who pulled one back for Arsenal.
After being denied by some dodgy offside calls, he latched onto a through ball and slotted home cooly in a manner that laughs in the face of all those who criticise his finishing. There were 10 minutes on the clock, could they do it?
No. No they couldn’t.
There’s not much you can say really about a game like that where everything just seemed to go wrong. Arsenal turned up with too many changes and played like they only had to step on to the pitch and the game was won. The thing is, Dinamo weren’t anything spectacular, but Arsenal were so poor, they didn’t have to be.
Next up, Stamford Bridge.
Let’s hope this serves as a massive kick up the backside before then.