Arsene Wenger’s bizarre decision to withdraw Olivier Giroud in Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Sunday afternoon could cost the club the chance to end their 12-year wait for the Premier League title.
The Gunners were sunk by Diego Costa’s first-half goal, after veteran centre-back Per Mertesacker had seen red for a challenge on the Spaniard with just 17 minutes on the clock.
Yet whilst tactical tinkering was inevitable, Wenger made the wrong decision to haul off Giroud and his decision to do so could have some serious repercussions when the season draws to a close in May.
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It was always obvious that Wenger would curb his side’s attacking edge after Mertesacker’s dismissal, but he substituted the wrong player with Giroud now one of the most important individuals at the club.
The Frenchman’s unhappy body language was proof he did not agree with his manager, and Arsenal looked short of a cutting edge as they slumped to a fifth defeat of the season.
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Mesut Ozil was unable to conjure up any of the magic that has made him the undisputed talisman of the side, though the return of Alexis Sanchez will provide some light amongst the darkness.
Wenger should have substituted the anonymous Theo Walcott instead, with the 26-year-old failing to mark his ten-year stay in north London with a decisive intervention.
Giroud’s importance to Arsenal is obvious and, though he may not quite be in the same league as club legends Thierry Henry and Ian Wright, the Frenchman has been in spectacular form so far this season.
The 29-year-old bagged a brace in the club’s 3-3 draw with Liverpool at Anfield earlier this month and has 18 goals for the campaign already.
He was originally seen as the club’s weak link after the Gunners sold Robin van Persie to Manchester United in the summer of 2012, but nearly four years on and he finally looks to be the finished article.
Wenger’s decision to substitute the France international could have a detrimental effect, and if it does then it could scupper Arsenal’s hopes of landing the prize they desire the most.
Giroud’s hurt reaction to being withdrawn was proof of a striker that clearly feels he can make a difference against some of the biggest clubs in the country and in Europe.
With Danny Welbeck due to return from injury in the foreseeable future, the 29-year-old would no doubt have liked to have spent the afternoon reminding everybody who the club’s number one forward is.
Instead, his afternoon was a frustrating one, and he must instead focus on making up for lost time when the club host Burnley in the FA Cup at the weekend.
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