Arsenal 3 – 0 Dinamo Zagreb
1 – 0 Özil (29)
2 – 0 Sanchez (32)
3 – 0 Sanchez (69)
Arsenal did their bit, Bayern theirs and we head off to Piraeus next month for another must-win match. A two or more goal margin of victory, or a single goal victory with Arsenal scoring three or more goals. All this on a ground where they have never so much as taken a point.
It’s either that or the Europa League.
The crucial difference is that in those previous matches, there was little or nothing to play for with qualification already assured. This time, it’s like the Round of Sixteen has come early. Home match lost and they head into the return fixture needing a two-goal victory. It’s all very familiar and having achieved that result twice in the past three seasons, comes some comfort.
There can be no complaints. Dinamo started strongly but after the initial flurry were hemmed back, mounting sporadic counter-attacks. Bar one late reaction save from Cech, I can’t recall a genuine chance they created. Not that Arsenal were dynamic in attack from the outset, there was a lot of possession without much end product to begin, the knock-on effect of the recent poor form.
It was typified when…what was it we said on Saturday? That’s it: if only the chance had fallen to Alexis instead of being created by him and ending at the wayward feet of Joel Campbell. Well, last night it did when a nicely weaved move ended with Campbell slotting a pass into the Chilean’s feet and a clear sight of goal. The finish never came, wafting into the ether as Alexis dithered, and came inside with the ball seemingly caught in his feet.
It was about the only thing the geographically-challenged Michael Owen got right. Kyiv is as many miles north of Zagreb as Alexis’s confidence has fallen south; no goals in seven makes Alexis sad. And Alexis doesn’t like to be sad so he decided to take the chance when the opportunity presented itself following Monreal’s good work. Confidence restored, he added a second for good measure when released by Campbell’s pass, he rounded Eduardo to score.
The real star of the show, for me at least, was Mesut Özil, who as befits a man of his reputation was at the centre of everything good Arsenal produced. He opened the scoring with the rarest of goals from his repertoire, a diving header from Alexis’s cross. There was excellent work from Giroud in the goal. Nipping in to win the ball in his own half, he lifted his knees in exaggerated fashion and ended up ahead of Sanchez’s cross which Özil headed with some aplomb.
It was a solid team performance from front to back, which was desperately needed after the run of one win in five. Confidence was restored with the goals on an individual and team level. No-one had a poor game whilst Flamini and Campbell stood out for the positive contributions made – particularly the latter – in the face of low expectations.
Post-match, Wenger was all smiles albeit with a hint of wariness. The evening came with some small cost,
Giroud had a little problem with his ankle over the weekend but I decided to give [him] a breather. Hector Bellerin, I took him off because he had a groin problem just before so I had to take them off meaning I could not take Alexis off. We now have five days to recover.
In other words, Alexis is knackered.
Wenger moved him into the central role where he was expending less effort apparently. Until he nipped between the back four and the goalkeeper for the third before lofting a pass for Özil to head just wide. Fair play to the German for not shirking the challenge although Eduardo barely made contact. It’s safe to say that Özil would have hit the turf a lot harder and faster in a domestic match.
Wenger noted that Theo Walcott has “a chance” of being fit for Olympiakos whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain is expected back in the next week or so. A glimmer of hope that the injury list is growing shorter. Wilshere and Welbeck are the longer-term absentees. Aaron Ramsey returned to first team action with a sprightly cameo, nothing too taxing for him in his twenty-five minutes on the pitch. It was a gentle a re-introduction to football as he could have wished.
Inevitably, post-match talk turned to the coming transfer window once it was confirmed that Francis Coquelin will miss three months with his ligament injury. It won’t need surgery nor will getting the cheque book out, according to Arsène. He’s a fun chap when he’s out and quite generous, if you ask his friends.
Except no-one expects him to wine and dine prospective players. A sensible footballing talk at Colney and let other members of Arsenal’s transfer team do the rest, once they have swept away the cobwebs which enveloped them over the summer.
The expected win put a different tone on those questions. Had Arsenal not won last night, the lack of summer investment which has already bitten us on the backside would engender a more aggressive tone. The best thing the club can do is a deal now for a central midfielder to provide cover and then competition for places. At this level, you expect a player to be cup-tied for Europe and with a potential Europa League campaign ahead of them, it offers the opportunity to rotate and rest players properly.
Unless they are Alexis and the idea of a rest is out of the question: “the break makes him tired…” Talismanic players have it hard.