Olivier Giroud highlights Arsene Wenger failings: five things we learned from Dinamo Zagreb 2 Arsenal 1
The Ox lacks cutting edge in box
Oxlade-Chamberlain continues to promise much more than he delivers. He can occasionally look unstoppable, particularly when given space to run at an opposition full-back. But for an England regular, one who played both the September Euro 2016 qualifiers during the recent international break, there is an alarming lack of end product. How many times do those searing runs result in goals? Very rarely, the statistics show. In total, he has scored just six times in the Premier League and managed seven assists for the Gunners. Ever. He missed a couple of decent first-half chances to improve that miserable record against Dinamo and then was punished for failing to properly track back by getting his timing so wrong that he could only provide the final touch for the home side’s opener. He was later substituted at the 64-minute mark. It was a chastening night for the midfielder.
Gabriel can keep Mertesacker out of team
This was a good match to miss, the kind of night when not being involved enhances your reputation. Just ask Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey. Per Mertesacker, who was absent from the matchday 18 despite taking part in full training on Tuesday, might reflect that sitting out a fourth consecutive match was less of an inconvenience than he might have originally thought. Not that too much criticism should be directed towards Gabriel, the German’s replacement over the last few weeks. On his Champions League debut, the Brazilian once again acquitted himself admirably. He is mobile, tough and excels in one-on-one situations. He is capable of making Mertesacker’s absence an enforced one. Wenger has a big call to make on Saturday.
Wenger has half an eye on Chelsea showdown
The team sheet was especially instructive. Coquelin, Petr Cech and Nacho Monreal, who have started all five of the club’s Premier League matches to date, were left on the bench. Ramsey and Hector Bellerin, two other regulars, were left behind in England. This was quite a departure for Wenger, who usually selects his strongest team for the first Champions League group match. Moreover, he tends not to rotate in the early autumn. Has one of the most stubborn leopards of all changed his spots? The manager has clearly decided to prioritise overcoming Chelsea and arch-rival Jose Mourinho, who he defeated in the Community Shield 1-0 in early August but has never done so in 13 competitive outings. It is perhaps also relevant that the Stamford Bridge showdown is a Saturday lunchtime kick-off, with only two-and-a-bit recovery days.
Second place is the best Arsenal can hope for
With home and away matches against Bayern Munich to come, Wenger’s team are realistically already playing for second place in Group F. Pep Guardiola’s team secured a notable 3-0 victory away to Olympiakos and can already be inked in for top spot. The best Arsenal can hope for is to join the German giants in the Champions League last-16 draw. Wenger’s side will be expected to overcome Dinamo and Olympiakos at Emirates Stadium but, with Bayern their opponents on matchdays three and four, the 9 December trip to the intimidating Greek arena is already looming as a potentially make-or-break night.