Arsenal are in a difficult position with two games left until the end of the Champions League Group Stage. We sit on the bottom of the group six points behind second-placed Olympiacos. We need two victories including one away to the Greek outfit where we’ll have to win with at least a two goal margin or a scoreline that see us scoring at least three goals. However, even that tough scenario will depend on Bayern’s desire to beat Olympiacos tonight. No biggie, eh?
But, first things first. We have been complacent once against Dinamo Zagreb and it backfired in spectacular fashion. Our recent form is not something to write home about, mostly due to an injury crisis that has hit us as it usually does. We haven’t had too much luck either as our profligacy has shown its ugly face too many times. That is not an option for tonight.
How big was our failure to beat the Croats in the reverse fixture? Dinamo Zagreb had gone through 15 Champions League matches without a victory (D2 L13) before their win over us and they have lost all three matches since. It’s no wonder that Arsene Wenger hasn’t accepted that defeat yet as it was the most shameful in Arsenal’s lengthy Champions League history. Some could argue that the referees were incompetent or that Dinamo Zagreb’s vice-captain Arijan Ademi was test positive by doping control after the game but for a team of our stature losing to everyone’s punching bag is totally unacceptable.
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Dinamo haven’t had the best league campaign either. After they had won the league without a single defeat last term, now they sit two points behind leaders Rijeka. I won’t mention all the legal issues they have had for a while. It’s worthy of a book. A John Grisham one.
When it comes to European football, they have been dreaming of progression for 45 years and they need to take something from Emirates in order to keep that dream alive. They have the slimmest chance for advancing to the Round of 16 – they have to beat us, Olympiacos must beat Bayern in Munich and then Dinamo have to beat the German’s with a six-goal-margin. Piece of cake, right?
Injuries, injuries and, oh yes, more injuries. We have Francis Coquelin, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck all unavailable for tonight while I’m not sure whether rushing Aaron Ramsey back would be a good idea. That means eight options for our midfield and attack are out.
However, there is one more issue. What have we expected from our European campaign in the first place? To win the Europa League? To win the Champions League? Perhaps losing tonight would not be such a bad thing. We could concentrate on our domestic competitions and, with our quality, repeat the title winning feat from 1997-98 and 2001-02 after our Euro exits.
Our team is so thin that it picks itself.
Petr Čech is a safe bet as our goalkeeper tonight but I would pick David Ospina. The Colombian is not a bad goalkeeper and he deserves a chance to prove the doubters wrong. I can’t think of better chance than against Dinamo Zagreb.
Hector Bellerin looked a bit rusty against West Brom so I would go with Mathieu Debuchy. We can’t afford another Bellerin injury and Debuchy needs games in order to stay in shape and to restore his confidence.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are likely to start in central defence. Mertesacker’s form is nothing to write home about though, especially since we have lost so much pace in all areas of the team.
Nacho Monreal has been our best defender this season. It’s likely he’ll get another start even though I wouldn’t mind if Wenger decides to rest him for Norwich.
Mathieu Flamini is likely to start as our defensive midfielder tonight. The Flame has already scored once against Dinamo in the first European match Arsenal played at the Emirates. It was an injury-time winner that completed our come-back from being a goal down.
Santi Cazorla will hopefully redeem himself with a few key passes tonight. A goal from open play would mean a lot to him. He was part of the Villarreal team when the Spanish side won 3:0 against Dinamo in 2010-11.
Joel Campbell might start on the right. He also needs to redeem for that ugly miss against West Brom.
Mesut Özil is the best Arsenal player at the moment and arguably the best in the Premier League as well. The King of Assists has already tasted a big victory over the Croatian side – he actually scored one of Real Madrid goals in 6:2 victory in 2011-12.
Alexis Sánchez looked lively against West Brom and that spells trouble for the Croats.
Olivier Giroud owes Dinamo a big one for the red card he got in the reverse fixture. His first hat-trick for Arsenal is on the cards.
I will go with a really big victory for Arsenal. 7:0, a hat-trick from Giroud, a brace from Campbell, a goal from Flamini and Cazorla each.