Greetings. So our 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb last night, combined with Bayern Munich’s 4-0 success against Olympiacos, keeps alive our hopes of progressing to the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
But those results also ensure we’ll play in the Europa League should we fail to get the right result in Greece in a fortnight’s time. A win by any score-line other than 1-0 or 2-1, will be enough to see us make the last 16, so fingers crossed we can complete a remarkable comeback in our group and continue in Europe’s premier competition in the New Year.
Last night’s starting line-up saw Arsene Wenger make two changes from the team that started against West Brom last Saturday; Mathieu Flamini replaced the injured Francis Coquelin and Joel Campbell came in for Kieran Gibbs, with the fit-again Aaron Ramsey taking a place on the bench.
Dinamo actually started the game on the front foot and tried to catch us cold, but in truth, never looked like scoring before we took control of proceedings and played most of the first period in their half of the pitch. Mesut Ozil was our standout performer in the opening 45, so it was fitting he should be the one to break the deadlock just before the 30 minute mark.
The move began in our right-back area as Santi Cazorla, Hector Bellerin, Oliver Giroud and Ozil all combined superbly, albeit with a smidgen of good fortune, before the ball found it’s way to Flamini in space on half-way. The Frenchman adroitly played it forward to Alexis Sanchez on our left flank, while Ozil and Giroud sprinted into Dinamo’s box. Sanchez spotted Ozil’s run and sent over an inch-perfect cross for the German to convert with a stooping header without breaking stride.
Four minutes later, we doubled our lead. Dinamo tried to pass out from the back, Nacho Monreal nipped in to win the ball, flew forward and centered for Sanchez to coolly side-foot home. We’ve developed quite a knack of scoring goals in quick succession in games this season and here was another example in what was a must-win game.
It was more one-way traffic for most of the second half and we killed the game off with about 20 minutes to go. Campbell picked up the ball on the right, cut infield, played a precise reverse pass into Sanchez’s path, and our hyperactive Chilean danced around their keeper and fired into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
At that stage, we’d made just the one substitution, with Ramsey replacing Giroud and I’m sure I wasn’t the only Arsenal fan hoping Jeff Reine-Adelaide might get his first competitive minutes for the club. Alas, it wasn’t to be and instead Arsene sent on Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy for Cazorla and Bellerin with eight minutes remaining. The big spoilsport.
After the game, the boss had this to say on our performance and chances of qualification:
We played at a good pace, produced a game of quality that we wanted. I believe the speed of our movement and passing gave Zagreb a problem. From then on, once we had scored the first goal you could see the chances were coming. It was important that we did not concede the first goal as we looked dangerous [going] forward. Overall we had a game of quality that we controlled well. What we wanted was to come out of this game with a chance to qualify and we needed to do the job and Bayern Munich needed to do the job and they did that well. It gives us a chance but how big the chance is I don’t know. I believe we can do it.
We now have Norwich away at the weekend, then a full week to prepare for Sunderland at home before we travel to Olympiacos for what will be a decider for second place in the group.
Hopefully we’ll have Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and perhaps even Theo Walcott, available by then for what will be a difficult task in one of the most vociferous and hostile atmospheres in Europe. But that’s two weeks away and attentions now return to the Premier League where we need to get back on track after picking up just 1 point from two games either side of the international break.
I’m not sure if Arsene will hold his press conference in the morning or on Friday but either way we should at least have an injury update tomorrow as the boss usually speaks with the official site on a Thursday.