I know it’s pretty easy to talk about it in hindsight, but that was pretty much as routine as you’re going to get in the Champions League, perhaps somewhat to most Arsenal fans frustration given the relative ease in which we dispatched Zagreb compared to the Olympiakos game.
In truth, our opponents were less than average, on a night in which Arsenal showed enough quality to secure three points and keep the Champions League hopes hanging by the dangling sword of Damocles. Dinamo Zagreb are an inferior team from an inferior league. Which makes it all the more frustrating that we fluffed our lines on their turf. Rarely threatening and only occasionally getting towards Petr’s goal, the Croatians were more like an irritating wasp at a summer picnic: not really spoiling the fun, but doing enough to let us know they were present.
Thankfully Arsenal had enough insect repellent to do what was neccessary. In fact, with three goals scored and none returned against us, you have to say that they did exactly what was required.
Defensively it was a much better performance from our back five, but as I remarked to Mike – a Geordie fan from my company – there is always the question mark which hangs over whether the opponents were that poor, or we were that good. The optimist in me naturally hopes for the latter. Certainly, Per and Kos looked more assured and in Bellerin and Monreal we go none of the problems we had from the weekend.
The nerves have enveloped the Arsenal fans psyche since the news of Coquelin was announced, but in truth these are not the games with which Flamini, Arteta or even Chambers will ever tested. Champions League games like this are for building confidence. In that regard, Flamini did well, getting stuck in and winning tackles in the ways in which only Flamini can do (sometimes awkwardly).
The offensive side of the team performed well enough. Özil looked his usual excellent self, also getting that rarest of things; a headed goal. I joked to Mike that he probably winced as the ball came in, but on replays, it looked like I was pretty bang on the money despite my flippant remark.
Alexis once again defied the odds. Can somebody tell me how a person who seems to have played solid football for three years, still manages to put in a shift like that and get two goals? He probably should have completed the hat-trick by converting the stonewall penalty he didn’t get, but it was one of those where the referee was never going to point to the spot given the score line.
Never mind. At least we got to see nothing from positives from the game. Two goals from Alexis, one from Özil, a brilliant assist from Campbell too. I still yet to be convinced by his future at the club, especially with Rambo returning for a cameo, but you have to give him props for picking out the Chilean for goal number three. It was nice to see a host of Arsenal players jogging over to congratulate him on the assist too.
A word for Santi Cazorla too. I thought he was brilliant yesterday and his involvement in the first goal cannot be underestimated. The way he jinks past players is mesmerising at times and he singled-handedly turned a precarious situation in to a promising attack with but a few shimmies of his toes. He poor against the Spuds, which we later found out was due to a dizzy spell, but it just goes to show that when he plays well, we play well. If we get him on form against Norwich on Sunday, we’ll go a long way to picking up three points, so let’s hope he gives us another masterclass in Norfolk at the weekend.
With Olympiakos suffering the same fate as us in Munich, the goal difference tally has swung in our favour after last night’s performance, but that isn’t the key metric with which our qualification will be secured. That will be by defeating the Greeks on their own turf by two goals or scoring at least three and winning the game. There’s no doubt we’re capable, but it will still be a tall order and with eyes now turning back towards the Premier League this weekend, it’s important to ensure the team is ready for that about the Champions League. It will be a cagey affair in Athens on December 9th and one that we could have done without, but the reason we love to see Arsenal in games is because we want them to have every chance to win trophies. You can’t win trophies if you’re not in them.
So it is then, that our fate remains in our own hands still, albeit with a bit of a mountain to climb. Would Arsenal have it any other way though? We’re getting quite used to it now.
See thee tomorrow.