Monday, 23 November 2015

Arsenal v Dinamo Zagreb Preview

It's do or die tomorrow night for Arsenal when they take on Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League. A win is the only thing that will do for them to keep their hopes alive and even then they will need Bayern Munich to win at home to Olympiacos. Three defeats in their first four group games have left them on the verge of missing out on the knock out stages and the cash rewards that brings.

Their only victory in the group so far came at home to Bayern and the German champions exacted their revenge in the return game. If Bayern draw at home to Olympiacos it would see both teams through to the next stage, but I would be very surprised if Bayern didn't do to Olympiacos what they have done to almost every other opponent this season. Arsenal just have to assume that Bayern will want to win the game to make sure they top the group and concentrate on what they need to do against Dinamo.

From a team selection point Arsene Wenger's options are even more limited since the weekend defeat to West Brom. It was bad enough to lose a game Arsenal were winning, but to lose both Francis Coquelin and Mikel Arteta to injury made it an even worse day. The loss of Coquelin in particular is a huge blow to the team as his emergence has been a huge factor in the team's performances in this calendar year.

Arteta limped off yet again within half an hour of coming on and it's hard to believe that he will be able to put his continuous injuries behind him. The absence of both of those players means the team will have to rely on Mathieu Flamini to play a defensive midfield role and I have to say that worries me greatly. There have been suggestions of playing Calum Chambers, Gabriel Paulista or Kieran Gibbs in the role, but I can't see any of them being up to the task in that role at least. It has to be Flamini for me or maybe the boss might have to rethink the way the team is playing just a little.

The only good news is that Aaron Ramsey is fit to play at least although it might be a risk for him to play from the start. His inclusion would certainly make the team stronger and I assume it would be on the right rather than in a central role alongside Santi Cazorla. Ramsey would be a far better choice than Joel Campbell who I am still far from convinced by, but the boss has to decide whether it's worth the risk so soon after his return.

When Arsensl lost their opening game in Zagreb and the next game at home to Olympiacos the boss played some of his fringe players in each game. The gamble backfired on each occasion and it's one of the main reasons the team are so close to elimination at the moment. The performances and attitudes on each night didn't help either and they need to put those results right in the next two games. They owe both Zagreb and Olympiacos the beating they should have given them in the first place and they need to get that underway tomorrow night.

It's not going to be easy for the players who are available to keep on putting in performances game after game, but they have to find it within themselves to do it. I thought they were a little unlucky against West Brom to lose 2-1 to a team who only had one shot on target. They weren't helped by the penalty miss, Mesut Ozil hitting the post or Campbell's miss, but the defending on the day and the drop in concentration when they went ahead wasn't good enough either.

Zagreb showed in the first game that they have plenty to offer and Arsenal cannot afford to take them lightly again. Hopefully none of the players will get themselves sent off like Olivier Giroud did in the first game and the boss will play his strongest team too. After that it's down to taking their chances and not over committing players forward so they're not caught on the break.

November has been a bad month for Arsenal far too often and a win tomorrow night would be their first win this month. They have a trip to Norwich on Sunday, but at least that's five days after the Zagreb game and any small knocks or tiredness can be overcome in that time. It's a tough schedule from here until the transfer window opens in January and the team need to get back on track right away if they're going to continue to challenge in the league.

The way I see it they're the better team and they just need to put in a performance to show that. If Bayern can do their part then Arsenal can go to Olympiacos in two weeks and try to get the two goal win they will need to make the last 16. It won't be an easy task but it's one they're capable of once the get the first part of that task done tomorrow night. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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