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Alexis on Form as Gunners Thrash Dinamo Zagreb

Alexis v Dinamo - 2nd goal

Arsenal 3 (Ozil 29′, Sanchez 33′, 69′) – Dinamo Zagreb 0

Match Report Match HighlightsPost-Match Press Conference

The Gunners knew that they had a job they had to do – defeat Dinamo Zagreb and hope for Bayern Munich to do them a favor at the Allianz Arena. With this in mind, many Arsenal fans watched their game and had half an eye on the proceedings in Germany. With barely 10 minutes gone, Douglas Costa made it 1-0 for Bayern and a rout was on the cards when Robert Lewandowski doubled their money. Meanwhile, at the Emirates, the away team was pressing, yes, pressing the Gunners. That got me so confused as I was thinking to myself, ‘we are hoping on Bayern to do us a favor and yet, here we are not even doing our own bit?’

There was some anxiety in the crowd with each passing minute and it was important for the Gunners to get the first goal. With Aaron Ramsey making the bench, Joel Campbell probably knew his time in the starting XI was pretty much over but how did he respond to that? A virtuoso performance that would go down as probably his finest in Arsenal colors. He passed the ball well, connected with his teammates, supported Hector Bellerin, made some good tackles and topped it all up with a wonderful assist to Sanchez for the match clincher.

Arsenal scored the first goal in typical Arsenal fashion – brilliant intricate passing play that saw Alexis released on the far side before he attempted a low cross that was headed some by the awesome Mesut Ozil. He has spent so much time assisting his teammate so I was very elated when he scored one for himself. That goal took the wind off the sails of the visitors and it was Arsenal all the way. Alexis had not scored in six games after his hot streak and he was hoping to get in on the scoring act but he had Nacho Monreal to thank for his goal as the Spaniard showed great determination to win the ball before teeing up Alexis for an easy tap-in.

Going in 2-0 in the break was what the home side wanted and with Bayern Munich inflicting further damage on Olympiakos, the stage was setting for a battle at Athens in a fortnight. Alexis got a brace for his good work and at 3-0, the game was pretty much over. The game also saw Ramsey return to first team football after some weeks out and there was the ‘football education’ as a holding midfielder for Calum Chambers. In all honesty, I haven’t been convinced of Chambers’ ability as a holding midfielder after his horror show at St. Mary’s last season and his cameo didn’t do anything to convince me as he was sloppy in possession and looked a bit out of his depth in that role.

On the bright side, there were no further injuries to contend with and every member of the squad played so well. Petr Cech had a relatively untroubled game but he still had to keep his concentration levels high when Laurent Koscielny cleared a ball that ricocheted off Mathieu Flamini and was destined for the net but Cech was on hand to make a quick reaction save. Hector Bellerin almost had another ‘Bayern Munich’ moment when he showed off his reserves of pace in a counter attack but the defender cleared the ball to safety before he could locate Ozil or Giroud.

All attention will be moved to the Premier League, as the Gunners face Norwich in the Premier League. More of that in the coming days.

The group is relatively poised and the Gunners have it all to do in two weeks time when they face Olympiakos at Athens.

Sayonara.

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Dinamo Zagreb 2-1 Arsenal: Not the Start We Hoped For

Shame on You, Giroud

Dinamo Zagreb 2 (Pivanic 24′, Junior Fernandes 58′) – Arsenal 1 (Walcott 79′)

Match Report Match Highlights Post-Match Press Conference (via Arsenal.com)

Sometimes you just wonder how things that are going so well just go wrong all of a sudden.

Yes, the manager had half an eye on the Chelsea game this weekend in Stamford Bridge and some players in the squad were in need of rest but hey, it’s not as if the ‘replacements’ were some 16-year-olds without any experience or something. David Ospina was the first choice goalkeeper before he lost his place to Petr Cech, Matt Debuchy was Bacary Sagna’s direct replacement before Hector Bellerin usurped him, Kieran Gibbs used to be miles ahead of Nacho Monreal before the tables turned and Arsenal’s decision not to buy a holding midfielder this summer indicated Mikel Arteta was Francis Coquelin’s deputy. The big guns like Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud featured, so it was a very strong squad.

What did we witness? Another classic shitefest from the Wenger boys. No cohesion, sloppy play, committing errors that we all thought we had eradicated. Then a familiar feeling surfaced yet again – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain losing concentration on the defensive third and we were punished for it. Ospina made a good save from Pivanic’s initial shot but it ricocheted off Pivanic / Ox to award the hosts the lead. Many Gooners had voiced their frustrations on seeing Aaron Ramsey on the wing but Oxlade-Chamberlain’s hot and cold performances haven’t done anything to show that he deserves to start ahead of the Welsh Jesus.

After some more shambolic defending, Dinamo Zagreb extended their lead from a simple header from Fernandes as the zonal marking was exposed yet again. For a player as vastly experienced as Koscielny, that was some pathetic marking. Then as you’d expect from a reactive manager like Wenger, he decided to bring on the cavalry with Theo Walcott, Joel Campbell and Francis Coquelin going into the fray to at least have some influence on the game. Walcott made a good impression as well as staking his claim for a starting berth in this weekend’s blockbuster against Chelsea. He latched onto Sanchez through ball, picked his spot and placed it past Eduardo in goal.

At the end, it wasn’t enough as the Gunners dropped their first points of the Champions League campaign, making their next clash against Olympiakos all the more crucial. With Bayern bossing the Greeks on their turf, Pep Guardiola’s side would be on course to run away as group winners but Arsene Wenger’s men will have to stand up and be counted.

It’s sad to see how such things happen to the Gunners, especially when it seemed like the team was trying to pick up some form. There was the usual rubbish on the official site on how the players were going to bounce back and all, but I can’t be bothered.

The game is long gone and we can only hope that the Gunners do better in their remaining fixtures. Till then, there is a game against Chelsea to prepare for.

Sayonara.

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Reviewing Arsenal’s Opponents in the Champions League Group Stages

                                          Arsenal vs. Bayern… an interesting prospect

With the qualifiers done and dusted, it was time for the UEFA officials to go through the process of the draws and as you’d expect, it was an occasion that was graced by football figureheads and dignitaries from all over the world. In the end, 32 of Europe’s finest were paired into eight groups as shown on the table below.

Final Champions League Draw

Group                                          TEAMS
A Paris St. Germain Real Madrid Shakhtar Donetsk Malmo SK
B PSV Eindhoven Manchester United CSKA Moscow VFL Wolfsburg
C SL Benfica Atletico Madrid Galatasaray SK Astana
D Juventus Manchester City Sevilla Borussia Monchengladbach
E FC Barcelona Bayer 04 Leverkusen AS Roma BATE Borisov
F Bayern Munich Arsenal Olympiakos Piraeus Dynamo Zagreb
G Chelsea FC Porto Dinamo Kiev Maccabi Tel Aviv
H Zenit St. Petersburg Valencia Olympique Lyonnais Gent

Group D has been widely regarded as the ‘Group of Death’ (there’s always a group of death every season but it’s never cliche) and it’s going to be very interesting to see how Manchester City performs in Europe this season. Despite being juggernauts in the Premier League, Manuel Pellegrini’s side are perennial underachievers in this competition and they would be hoping to strive for greatness this season.

Of all the English sides, Chelsea has the easiest run-in but Manchester United has tricky opponents in the forms of VFL Wolfsburg, PSV Eindhoven and CSKA Moscow.

How about the Gunners? For the past five seasons, Arsene Wenger and his squad haven’t gotten the hurdle of the first knockout round, losing twice to Barcelona and Bayern before AS Monaco added to the team’s embarrassment. This season, Arsenal will lock horns against three teams to earn a right to play in the knockout stages yet again.

Here’s a quick review of the Gunner’s opponents.

Dynamo Zagreb (Croatia)

The Croatian outfit has had many great exports to the footballing world in recent times with the likes of Luka Modric, Eduardo da Silva, Alen Halilovic and Mateo Kovacic coming to mind but the current crop of players aren’t household names even though the likes of Angelo Henriquez (bought from Manchester United) and playmaker, Paulo Machado, are worth mentioning. Machado joined the club last season, bringing with him a wealth of experience garnered from his days at FC Porto and Olympiakos.

Dinamo Zagreb are currently leading the MAXtv Prva Liga with 13 points after seven games, with Zoran Mamic’s side winning three games and drawing four. Most of the goals this season have come from Armin Hodzic (six goals already) so the Gunners would have to be mindful about the threat the striker would pose. The young Bosnian actually began his career at Liverpool but he failed to make the grade before he was shipped out to Zagreb.

06/07 Dinamo Zagreb 0-3 Arsenal

Cesc Fabregas scoring Dinamo Zagreb in 2006

Arsenal and Dinamo have met a long while ago in the Group Stages of the 2006/07 Champions League campaign. Goals from Cesc Fabregas (brace) and Robin van Persie gave the Gunners a resounding 3-0 win in the Maksimir Stadium and in the second leg, Freddie Ljungberg and Mathieu Flamini scored the goals that handed the Gunners a 2-1 victory. Dinamo’s only goal of the night was scored by a certain Eduardo da Silva, who would become a Gunner the next summer.

Dinamo Zagreb would be regarded as the whopping boys of the group.

Olympiakos Piraeus (Greece)

Olympiakos won the Greek Super League for the fifth year in a row, edging out fierce rivals, Panathinaikos, with a massive 12 points. They also won the Greek Cup after defeating Skoda Xanthi, making it another ‘double’ campaign. Konstantinou Mitroglou smashed in 19 goals for his team, after a disappointing spell at Fulham.

Despite the fact that Olympiakos had a stellar campaign in his domestic league, the Greek giants had a torrid time in Europe – first of all, missing out of qualification to the knockout round after finishing third behind Atletico Madrid and Juventus but they were afforded a chance to continue their campaign in the Europa League. Olympiakos didn’t even go beyond their first hurdle in the second-tier European competition, losing to eventual finalists, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.

Vito Mannone’s legendary blunder against Olympiakos

This season, Olympiakos has began the campaign with a 3-0 win Panionios, as they look to pick up where they left off last season. They are very familiar with playing against Arsenal, as both sides have played six times with the Gunners winning their three games at home and the Greek side beating the Gunners in the Karaiskakis Stadium. This would give the Greeks some measure of confidence knowing that they’ve always beaten Arsene Wenger’s side whenever they visit Athens.

Olympiakos would be sure-fire favorites to make the Europa League slot in the group.

FC Bayern Munich (Germany)

Bayern Munich would be among the favorites to win the big eared trophy they last won in 2013 under Jupp Heynckes but since Pep Guardiola took over, the Bavarians have been very unfortunate, losing in two semifinals against Spanish opponents – Real Madrid two seasons ago and FC Barcelona last season. The Germans won the Bundesliga last season and they had the likes of Arjen Robben and Robert Lewandowski to thank for the goals they contributed to the team’s cause.

This season, Guardiola has added some South American spice to his team with the acquisitions of Douglas Costa and Arturo Vidal. Costa netted on his debut in the 5-0 thrashing of Hamburg while Vidal opened his account for his new club from the spot in a German Cup match against Nottigen.

The Germans are odds-on to top the group but they’d have to go through Arsenal to prove their mettle.

It’s going to be a very tough group and I hope the Gunners play their best over the course of the six games.

Sayonara.

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