Arsene Wenger’s decision to replace Olivier Giroud to utilize his pacy wingers against 11 men Chelsea seemed a logical choice at the time, but in hindsight it proved costly with the Gunners clearly lacking a focal point and posed virtually no physical threat in the visitors box.
Naturally the Emirates faithful expressed their displeasure at seeing the clubs inform front man make way after Per Mertesacker’s red card forced Wenger into a substitution. Gabriel entered to ensure Arsenal could play four across the back, but the Gunners remained very much in the tie but lacked the killer instinct in the box.
Wenger stands by his tactical decision. When asked by journalists as to why Giroud was the man to make way, Wenger responded rather spiky (via Arsenal.com): “You want to make a poll for every decision to see who does what? I made the decision and for me it was quite normal.
“We had to go for long distances and we needed pace to go from one goal to the other. We knew we had to drop deeper and use pace to get forward.”
Wenger also confirmed Giroud was carrying a knock and was a doubt for the tie against the Blues, which played into his thinking during what was a decisive decision so early on in the tie.
“I think yes, but it was a bit in my mind if he [Giroud] gets injured, with his ankle, he was a doubt,” Wenger said. “He didn’t practice yesterday and today we declared him fit. It was on my mind. But I had to change a player and I thought that was the most rational decision with all the factors.”
Choosing to remove Giroud was a terrible decision at the end of the day, and one in which Wenger must surely regret now. Although Walcott found himself in some promising positions his overall performance was certainly not worthy of the captains armband he wore, while Campbell struggled to provide the impact he desired. The Costa Rican, to be frank, was the more obvious choice.
Losing Giroud as a focal point, especially when we actually managed to gain some width and look to cross, proved damaging. There was no-one there to offer the aerial threat when Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin imposed themselves on the Chelsea fullbacks. We needed someone to hold up the ball when we were sitting deep, and for that fact alone it made more sense to stick with Giroud.
It may be pointless to discuss this point now, the match is finished and time to move on to focus on the upcoming FA Cup clash. But we must analyze these types of decisions that can often prove pivotal in matches as important as Sunday’s. We can certainly share our sympathy for Giroud who was visibly frustrated with the decision from his compatriot.