Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Back in their own hands

Arsenal 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb

Arsenal produced an excellent display against Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday night to keep their hopes of qualifying from the group stage alive.

The Gunners also needed Bayern Munich to win against Olympiacos, which they did, and now go into the final group game against the Greeks, with their fate in their own hands. Arsene Wenger’s side now know that a victory by two clear goals will see them through as will any victory with Arsenal scoring three goals.
The build up to the game on Tuesday night was over shadowed with the news that defensive lynchpin Francis Coquelin has damaged ligaments in his knee and will be out for a period of at least 2 months. The questions amongst the media and fans alike centred around the gaping hole at the base of the midfield and how Wenger would decide to fill it. With Arteta also injured, the manager elected to start the game with Flamini in the holding midfield role, but in truth Wenger himself could have played in that position on Tuesday night as Zagreb were no match for the Gunners.

In the opening group game away to the Croatians, Arsenal approached the match with the wrong attitude and made Zagreb look far better than they actually are. On Tuesday, a focused Arsenal were on a completely different level to the away side. In particular, the Gunners forward three of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Joel Campbell were outstanding throughout. It was no surprise that they were directly involved in all three goals.

Ozil has been excellent so far this season, assuming the role of talisman for this team alongside Alexis. The German and the Chilean displayed unbelievable skill throughout this game, taking the ball past their opponents with ease as they mesmerised the home crowd time and time again. Their talents are such that they should be displayed on the highest stage and they both certainly did everything within their powers on Tuesday to ensure that remains the case, combining perfectly for the first goal. In truth this was a wonderful team goal from the Gunners as they worked the ball out of defence with excellent first time passes, right up the pitch, to Alexis on the edge of the Zagreb penalty area to cross to ball for Ozil to steer a header into the net. It was a goal that Wenger will be extremely proud of as it encapsulated his footballing philosophy perfectly.

While Ozil sparkled and should have really had a hat trick in the first half, first seeing his shot tipped behind for a corner, following another excellent Arsenal move and then another effort comfortably saved when he should have done better, Alexis really stole the show. The Chilean is just a phenomenon. He should be absolutely shattered and is due for a rest, but he just keeps going and going. Against West Brom and against Zagreb Alexis has produced performances of the highest calibre. On Tuesday he was a box of tricks, amazing the crowd throughout the entire 90 minutes. His first goal owed much to Nacho Monreal, as the Spaniard intercepted a pass before driving into the penalty area and laying the ball square to Alexis, for the Chilean to fire home, but it was exactly what his wonderful performance deserved.

On the opposite flank, Joel Campbell went on a series of surging forward runs particularly in the first half, showing great speed, strength and skill to carry the ball and attack the Zagreb back line with direct intent. Arsenal have often lacked this feature to their game as they tend to play a slow, patient passing game instead. But Campbell adds a different dimension to the team as he his capable and confident enough to embark on direct forward runs, turning the opposition midfield and exposing their defensive line. On Tuesday, Campbell may have been let down by his finishing as he had also been against West Brom, but his eye for a through pass was displayed instead. His pass for the third Arsenal goal was magnificent. Cutting inside from the right flank, the Costa Rican played a beautiful reverse pass to pick out the run of Alexis, who took the ball around the goalkeeper before firing home from a tight angle to put the game beyond any doubt.

The Gunners should receive plenty of plaudits for their display on Tuesday, but this was a limited Zagreb side. Arsenal still have a chance to qualify but should never have allowed themselves to get into such a position when faced with such a mediocre group. The Gunners showed their superiority here and following the defeat to West Brom at the weekend will go into the game against Norwich with renewed confidence. The defensive midfield position will be a great cause for concern however. Arsenal were not tested by Zagreb at all, but throughout the next few months, they certainly will be and there must be concerns about the ability of Flamini to fill this role on a regular basis. Before the match, Wenger highlighted that Callum Chambers can play in this position too and in fact the Englishman was brought on towards the end of the match and deployed at the base of the midfield, but unfortunately he did not impress. Even against a very average side who were already well beaten by that stage, Chambers lost possession far too easily. Hopefully if he were to get a run in the side his performances would improve game by game. Ramsey returned to side from injury and it has also been suggested that he can help fill in this role, but his natural tendency to get forward would result in gaps being left in an area of the field where discipline is required.

Further forward, the form of Giroud must also be a worry. With Walcott still a couple of weeks away from returning to full fitness, while Giroud has been scoring regularly, his demeanour in the last two games has not been good enough. Wenger did indicate that his striker had picked up an ankle knock against West Brom, but in that game after scoring his goal he went missing. In the second half of that match, Giroud just didn’t get on the ball or make runs in an attempt to get on the end of crosses, while against Zagreb he was also largely anonymous. Wenger must hope that Giroud’s all round play improves quickly as Arsenal need to get back on track in the league as soon as possible, having dropped points in their last two games.

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