Somewhat predictably there has been a knee-jerk reaction to Arsenal’s defeat to Dinamo Zagreb calling into question the Gunners’ chances of progressing from the group stage in this season’s Champions League.
As this was only the first match – and away from home at that – it’s safe to say that Arsene Wenger should not be too worried about not qualifying. But what went wrong in Zagreb? And how will Arsenal pick themselves up to make it to the knockout stages?
A BAD NIGHT IN CROATIA
Giroud’s silly sending off didn’t do anything to help Arsenal’s chances on the night but with most pundits believing it’s between Arsenal and Dinamo for the second place in the group behind Bayern Munich, a defeat was the last thing Wenger would have wanted.
Dropping so many players for the game in Zagreb – with Chelsea in mind – backfired on Wenger and it is easy to point to that selection mistake as the reason for the defeat. The omission of Coquelin in particular from the starting eleven made things difficult for Arsenal but there was still plenty of world class talent on the field to deal with the Croatian champions. Dinamo may have now gone 42 matches unbeaten but this was a game where Arsenal could have expected at least a draw.
NEW PLAYERS NEEDED?
A bigger problem is the ongoing issue of not having the goal scorers to do the job. Even with an impressive goal record, Walcott has not entirely convinced as an out and out striker and a defeat like this only strengthens the belief that Wenger should have invested in another forward in the summer. It is debateable whether a signing in the January transfer window would work but the likes of Cazorla, Ozil and Sanchez in particular need to up their games to provide the goals.
CAN ARSENAL QUALIFY FOR THE KNOCKOUT PHASE?
As for the immediate question of Champions League knockout qualification, Arsenal should still be able to finish second in this group. A win at home to Olympiacos at the end of the month will be expected before back to back Bayern Munich games. Arsenal probably need to get something from these two matches but with the German champions well equipped to win all their group ties it is the matches against Dinamo and Olympiacos that are most important.
Arsenal should be able to get six points off the Greek side and will be fired up to win at home against Dinamo in November. Finishing away in Piraeus is not ideal but even just nine points could be enough for Arsenal to progress if the matches between Dinamo and Olympiacos go the right way.
The question then would be whether could go further in the tournament – a feat not achieved since the 2009/10 season. At least there is no way to meet Bayern Munich in the first knockout game this year! Finishing a likely second would mean that Arsenal would face a group winner which makes the job even harder but if the team have put together a run of games by then there is no reason why they could not progress.
NO NEED TO WORRY
Additions to the squad are necessary – whatever the club say – and in particular a proven striker in the mould of Benzema would have been perfect. But Welbeck should be back by then and there is no need to be overly worried after one defeat – away from home – in the first group game. Arsenal just need to refocus and put themselves in a good position after the Bayern games and qualification for the knockout phase of the Champions League should be easily reached. Where they can go from there is a little more debateable.
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