Arsenal’s Frustrating European Nights Returned In Croatia

Zagreb-ArsenalArsenal’s opening match to their Champions League campaign away to Dinamo Zagreb wasn’t the most comfortable fixture, but it could have been much worst. The Gunners could have had to travel to Munich to take on Pep Guardiola’s side, but instead they traveled to Croatia.

With the Gunners expected to defeat the hosts, although I don’t think anyone thought it would be an easy match, Arsene Wenger decided he was going to make some changes in the squad.

By some changes, I mean a handful of changes.

Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin were left behind to rest up for Saturday’s match at Stamford Bridge. Per Mertesacker also stayed in London after the German was involved in a minor fender bender, but it was reported that he wasn’t injured. Petr Cech was given a night off, making way for David Ospina. Francis Coquelin and Nacho Monreal were also kept out of the starting XI.

Either way, without some of our regulars, there really isn’t much of an excuse for the Gunners to not have come away from Zagreb with a positive result.

They had possession, but that final piece of magic just wasn’t there. Haven’t we heard that before? Olivier Giroud could have even given the North London side the lead after a fantastic header that was equally matched by Portuguese shot-stopper Eduardo.

Then came what we’ve all been accustomed to over the years. Arsenal on the front foot but unable to breakthrough, and then here comes the opponent with a fortunate bounce taking the lead.

Did Ox really knock that into the goal?

That’s what I asked myself when I saw it all unfold. But did he really? Did the Zagreb player hit it with his hand?

Regardless of who hit it, Arsenal found themselves down a goal away from home, the players were frustrated as were the fans, and Arsene Wenger looked beyond annoyed. I was actually surprised to see him yelling from the sideline. You don’t see the boss showing much emotion towards the players all that often, which was a clear sign of how things were going, unless of course he’s engaging in a shoving match with Jose Mourinho. Everyone ready for Saturday?!

Arsene Wenger vs ZagrebIt was like the match commentator had it all scripted. He had just finished talking about how Arsenal needed to take advantage of their matches against Zagreb & Olympiacos in order to avoid finishing second as they’ve done in years past. Shortly after, the English side found themselves behind on the scoreboard.

Were we headed for more heartbreak in Europe?

That early goal hadn’t convinced me though. I was still confident Arsenal would bounce back and win 1-2.

Belief quickly turned to hope, as Olivier Giroud was shown his second yellow card, sending him to the shower much earlier than he would have wanted.

Was it a foul – Absolutely! Should he have been shown his second yellow for that tackle – I think not! Unfortunately what we think doesn’t matter because the match official didn’t even hesitate! Au revoir Monsieur…

Even then, down a man and a goal, I still had faith. Actually, did I really have faith? Probably not! My heart was saying of course they can pull this off, while my head was telling me to be realistic. They aren’t going to pull this off.

Time passed, the squad started to play more with their heart than their head, and then the dagger came from a corner kick.

Not only did Koscielny get beat to the ball, but if you watch the replay, Kieran Gibbs jumps, and then lowers his head. I’m still in the process of figuring out WTF he was doing. Had he not lowered his head, he would have been able to head the ball away, eliminating the possibility of that second goal, at least for the time being.

Monreal, where are you?

The squad looked so lost and confused until that triple substitution where we seemed to gain some confidence, but of course, it was just too late.

Walcott’s goal gave me and I’m sure many others a false sense of hope, but at the end of the day, it was more of that inconsistent Arsenal on display. Why the hell does it continuously happen though? Who was to blame for that defeat? Was it Wenger? The players?

Giroud Red Card vs ZagrebOne thing is for sure – Arsene Wenger underestimated his opposition, and he paid for it.

I was listening to TalkSport earlier and I heard one of the hosts say that the Frenchman had sent out a Capital One Cup squad for a Champions League fixture. While I’m not sure Wenger would use that many big names in the Capital One Cup, he sure as hell thought it would be a stroll in the park. 

If topping the group was already going to be hard with Bayern Munich involved in the scenario, dropping points to Zagreb just made things a hell of a lot more difficult. At least we know we can’t be drawn against the Bavarians in the first knockout stage, if we get there. We’re going to get there right?! Of course we are, although we likely won’t make it easy on ourselves.

What’s more frustrating about Wednesday’s defeat is that we now have to bounce back on Saturday, away from home against a Chelsea side that not only managed to win their UCL match, but they too are out to prove a point.

Things haven’t started off very well for the Special One, and he now welcomes Arsene Wenger into his boxing ring, knowing that he’s essentially dominated the Frenchman in head-to-head matches over the years. Will having won the Community Shield this Summer have finally broken the curse, allowing the Gunners to get yet another positive result against the grumpy & arrogant Mou? One can only hope… and pray… just a little!

For the time being, all we can do is try to forget about that frustrating match in Croatia, and turn the page to Stamford Bridge. Like Theo Walcott said, the team has to bounce back, but will they be bouncing back this weekend, or will we have to wait for that bouncing to happen?

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