So here we are again, the Champions League group stage.
Arsenal are in it yet again, and this season’s campaign starts in Croatia as we travel for a tricky away game against Croatian double winners Dinamo Zagreb. We’ve won two in a row in the league and looked in fine form against Stoke City on Saturday, so let’s hope it provides some sort of momentum.
Manager Arsène Wenger was joined by Mikel Arteta at Tuesday’s press conference, and insists that Arsenal won’t be taking the game lightly. There’s no doubt how far Arsenal are aiming to go this year.
“This drive [to win the competition] is immense. It has never been done at Arsenal and we were very, very, very, close,” the Arsenal boss told the press. “On the other hand, I have been long enough in the job to know you have to be realistic and know that you have to put hard work in.”
Héctor Bellerín and Aaron Ramsey have been left at home to rest ahead of the game against Chelsea on Saturday. With that in mind, Wenger could also rest Nacho Monreal, who has been ever-present so far this season, as he has hinted at plenty of rotation.
Boss: “I know I have a squad of experienced players. Every decision I make is difficult, so it’s easier to rotate than it was before.”
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) September 15, 2015
With fewer strong passers from the back, there may be a temptation to start Mikel Arteta for the first time since November. Oxlade-Chamberlain is the player most likely to replace Ramsey and Theo Walcott will hope to keep his place up front.
Possible XI: Čech; Debuchy, Gabriel, Koscielny Gibbs; Arteta, Cazorla; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Özil, Alexis; Walcott.
Dinamo Zagreb are unbeaten in their last 41 games – they haven’t lose since November – but manager Zoran Mamić is under no illusions.
“Arsenal are a top quality team, better than us,” the man in charge said in his press conference. Nonetheless, he promised to attack.
“But our aim is not to sit back & defend,” he added. “We will try to pose them problems.”
Star man is 21-year-old Chilean striker Angelo Henriquez, who scored a goal every 84 minutes last season. Then he was on loan from Manchester United, but now he has been signed permanently and will be hoping to do some damage.
Possible XI: Eduardo; Pinto, Taravel, Sigali, Pivaric; Rog, Antolic, Machado; Pjaca, Henriquez, Fernandes.
It’s important that Arsenal come out of the blocks, and it doesn’t really matter how we do it. An emphatic 5-0 or a scrappy 2-1, three points is the crucial thing in a group stage with just six games.
Starting away from home on an imperfect pitch and in front of an intimidating crowd won’t be particularly nice but, with Bayern Munich and Champions League bogey side (for away games at least, even though they were dead rubbers) Olympiacos to come we need to get points on the board early to alleviate the pressure.
It would be amazing to have it wrapped up quickly so Wenger can sub some players with the Chelsea game in mind, but I won’t ask for too much. Just, by hook or by crook, come back to London with all three points, Arsenal.