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Giroud Stupidity Costs Arsenal as Wenger Rotation Gambles Backfire

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The Gunners rested six players but lost 2-1 to Dinamo Zagreb in their Champions League opener as the France international forward saw red to rub salt into the wound
COMMENT By Greg Stobart
Arsene Wenger has rarely rested players in the Champions League – and if he has any sense he will never try it again after the experiment spectacularly backfired in Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb.

The Gunners made six changes to the side that cruised past Stoke at the weekend.

The result? A humbling, morale-sapping defeat and several exhausted players after Olivier Giroud’s stupidity forced them to play with 10 men for more than 50 minutes.

Wenger sent his team out in anticipation of a comfortable win and with one eye on Saturday lunchtime’s huge Premier League game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

He didn’t get what he was looking for. Wenger wanted to show the strength of the Arsenal squad, instead questions will again be asked about what he thought the club could achieve this season after neglecting to sign any outfield players in the summer transfer window.

Arsenal and Wenger never learn and they are already looking at a Groundhog Day scenario. The Londoners will still fancy their chances of sneaking into second place in Group F but, even then, an inevitable last 16 defeat against a top side awaits.

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Arsenal did not lose just because of Giroud’s idiotic red card for two bookings, but it summed up their evening.

The first was given for an act of dissent, the second for a rash swing of his left foot that caught Ivo Pinto instead of the ball.

It was the kind of accuracy the Frenchman had shown earlier in the half when he managed to shoot straight at the goalkeeper’s legs from a yard out.

Giroud cost Arsenal dearly and showed why Wenger was so keen to sign a top class striker over the summer.

But let’s not forget that by the time the Frenchman trudged off the pitch, Arsenal were already 1-0 down to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s own goal after some abysmal defending.

In the 58th minute, Junior Fernandes made it two with a simple header from a corner and Arsenal could never recover, despite being given hope by Theo Walcott’s tidy finish 11 minutes from time.

Walcott had been rested for the game and started on the bench along with Petr Cech, Nacho Monreal and Francis Coquelin while Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin – supposedly both perfectly fit – watched on television from London.

The hole left by Coquelin’s absence was particularly noticeable and highlighted why so many of the club’s fans wanted Wenger to sign another defensive midfielder over the summer to either back-up or rival the Frenchman.

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Wenger claimed before kick-off that he was replacing them with players of equal quality in the likes of David Ospina, Mikel Arteta and Kieran Gibbs.

He was proven wrong on the kind of night that will have Wenger reaching for the cigarettes he used to smoke on the bench in his early days as a manager with Monaco.

It was a selection that showed a lack of respect to the competition and Dinamo. Let’s be honest, Wenger thought it would be a walkover but instead gifted a first Champions League win since 1999 to a team that played with speed and imagination that Arsenal couldn’t match.

Why did Wenger feel he could get away with making so many changes when tournament favourites Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich all played full-strength sides in their Champions League openers?

It leaves Arsenal already playing catch up and under huge pressure to compensate by at least returning from Stamford Bridge with a point on Saturday.

And it’s an experiment that, having spectacularly backfired, Wenger surely won’t be trying again.

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