On September 16th, Arsenal will travel to the Stadion Maksimir to take on Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb. After both being drawn into group F with the likes of Olympiacos and Bayern Munich, the two will look to get their group stages off to a good start. The English Gunners will look to spoil Zagreb’s first foray into the Champions League group stages and hand them their first ever group stage loss.
Arsenal will be going into this one with a similar squad that they had for the match against Stoke at the weekend. Jack Wilshere is still reportedly about a month away from returning after his setback. Both Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky will be out until around January with their long term knee injuries. Per Mertesacker should return soon, but reports indicate that the Zagreb game will be a bit too soon for him. Zagreb look to be going into the game with a full first team, except for Goncalo Santos who will miss out through suspension.
The two sides have differing amounts of experience in the Champions League. As mentioned above, this is Zagreb’s first foray into the group stages after falling out in the qualifiers in past attempts. Arsenal on the other hand have been in the Champions League for 19 consecutive seasons. The two sides do have one thing in common as they are the only sides in the modern era in their respective leagues to go a whole league season unbeaten. Arsenal did it in 2003/2004, while Zagreb did it last season and have still not lost a match since in their last 41 matches. The two have met before as they faced off in the qualifying stages for the Champions League in 2006. Arsenal won both legs then with a 2-1 home win and a 3-0 win in Croatia. Current Arsenal player Mathieu Flamini scored their fifth and final goal across the two legs back then. It still remains the Frenchman’s only Champions League goal for the club across.
Arsenal: Mesut Ozil
Arsenal’s 42.5m German superstar has been living up to his billing so far this season. Of players to play at least 180 minutes, Ozil has the highest chances created per 90 minutes ratio in the Premier League. He was in fine form at the weekend creating seven chances and assisting the games first goal. The German is averaging 4.7 chances created per 90 minutes, and if he can continue to create chances at that rate, Arsenal should be able to score a goal or two in their trip to Croatia.
Dinamo Zagreb: Angelo Henriquez
Zagreb did not keep one clean sheet at home in qualifying, so, if they’re going to get anything from this one, they’ll need to score goals. If there is one player in their team that can do that, it’s Angelo Henriquez. The former Manchester United man enjoyed a fruitful loan spell with Zagreb last season, scoring 30 goals in 37 appearances, and decided to make the move permanent this summer. He has started the season well with three goals in five games, including two goals in the three qualifying games he appeared in. He’ll need to be clinical in front of goal to give Zagreb a chance against Arsenal.
A trip to eastern Europe in never easy for an English team, but I think the gap in quality will show in this one. This is a match Arsenal have to win if they have any hope of winning the group, and I think they will. While Zagreb will put up a very tough test, I think the Gunners will come out on top in the end.
Prediction: 3-1 Arsenal