The lion’s share of the blame for yesterday’s somewhat surprising and very disheartening defeat at the hand of recent Premier League tormentors Chelsea has to lie at the feet of the German centre back Per Mertesacker. It was a poor decision stemming from his poor positioning and the defender topped it all off by looking away as he slid into a badly judged tackle on Diego Costa.
After that we can point to the fact that Man City defender Demichelis had just been shown a yellow for a similar tackle the day before and suggest that the officials owed us a bit of leniency after what Mike Dean did at Stamford Bridge, but the fact is that Arsene Wenger and the players had 70 minutes left to get something out of the game and failed.
Some people have pointed to the decision of the manager to take off Giroud playing a big part in our defeat and the fact that our three best chances all fell to Flamini in the box backs that up. Wenger explained his decision after the match and he clearly expected the Gunners to be fighting a rearguard action so wanted the pace and counter attacking threat of Walcott instead.
But the pundit Jermaine Jenas had a different take on things and told the BBC just why he was surprised by the decision and felt that it was the wrong one for Arsenal on the day.
He said, “The Arsenal fans and Giroud himself made it very clear what they thought of the decision, and I agreed with them.
“I can honestly say I have never seen that happen in any game I’ve been involved in. If a team has a defender sent off, it is usually one of their ‘luxury’ players who gets dragged off – not the big striker.
“Personally I would have taken off Joel Campbell, but I would also have chosen to lose Mesut Ozil or Theo Walcott rather than Giroud.
“It was 0-0 when Wenger made the switch and it is possible he was already thinking he would take a draw, but he must surely have been thinking that he might need a goal at some stage.
“If Campbell came off and Arsenal conceded quickly as they did, Wenger might have regretted his decision but he had another similar player in Alexis Sanchez on the bench who could have come on to try to rectify the error.
“The main problem with taking Giroud off was that Arsenal did not have another striker like him. Once Wenger made that decision, then tactically he was totally committed to playing one way.
“In effect, it meant Arsenal were playing without a centre-forward because Walcott stayed out on the left when Giroud went off.
“Ozil was their most advanced player centrally from the 22nd minute onwards, and he only touched the ball in the Chelsea box twice – he was clearly not going to act as a focal point for their attack the same way Giroud would have done.
“That was one of the reasons Arsenal had so few shots, and took until the 86th minute to get one on target, because the likes of Ozil and Aaron Ramsey were trying to get past defenders to shoot on the edge of the area rather than running on to something that Giroud had teed up for them.
“Arsenal taking off Giroud was like Manchester City taking off Sergio Aguero in that situation – someone who is their main goal threat and their top scorer this season.
“I would argue that, when you are down to 10 men, Giroud brings more to the table in every area than a striker like Aguero because, not only is he dangerous in open play, he is an asset at set-plays too.
“Defensively, Arsenal had just lost Mertesacker, the tallest player on the pitch and Giroud would have given them additional cover in the air at the back.
“Then there is what he offers Arsenal when they have corners or free-kicks in attacking areas, or when Mesut Ozil gets on the ball out wide and whips the ball across the goalkeeper for Giroud to get on the end of it.
“A striker like Giroud allows your team to get up the pitch, sometimes regardless of the quality of the passes he is getting, because of his presence.
“As a midfielder, it was always easier when I had someone of that stature to aim at when we were a man down, to hold the ball up and take fouls that give you set-pieces.
“I could see Wenger’s thinking when he explained afterwards that he wanted to use Theo Walcott’s pace instead but, to me, that approach always seemed less likely to work.
“Two of Chelsea’s defenders, Kurt Zouma and Cesar Azpilicueta are very quick and to beat them that way takes the perfect pass. Walcott did get behind them, twice, but on both occasions he was offside.”
At the time I understood completely the Frenchman’s call but is Jenas right in his criticism?