This week sees the return of the Champions League, Europe's elite competition. For the first time in many years Arsenal did not have to go through the qualifying stages of the competition, finishing third in the league last season. It was a welcome relief for Wenger's men.
What wasn't welcome though was being drawn with Bayern Munich in their group. Among the other competitors in Group F are Greek side Olympiacos and Croatian outfit Dinamo Zagreb. It is Zagreb who host Arsenal on Wednesday night as the Gunners embark on their European journey for yet another season.
In this article a selection of writers from the Arsenal Office of VAVEL UK provide their thoughts and predictions on the game to come.
Conor de Smith, Arsenal editor:
Bayern Munich. Arsenal. Olympiacos. All are well established clubs of Champions League pedigree, each giants in their own divisions and arguably on the European stage. Group F appears to be a competitive one, but also due to the inclusion of Dinamo Zagreb.
The Croatian champions are far from unfamiliar with the competition though, first participating in the European Cup in 1958 with their last appearance coming in 2012. Being drawn against the likes of Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United in the past, Modri face another tough task.
Although not quite to the same extent, Arsenal have also fared poorly during the group stages in recent seasons. Unable to finish top of their respective groups for four of the last five years, the Gunners have been jettisoned out of the Champions League round-of-16 in the last five consecutive seasons. If they wish to avoid this fate once more, then this meeting in Zagreb is a must win game already. As Arsene Wenger said this week, “in the Champions League you quickly find out if you are not on the top level from the beginning”.
Petr Cech is expected to retain his place in goal but a new look starting XI is a possibility, with a trip to Chelsea arriving this Saturday. Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs may be handed their first starts of the season in defense, as could club captain Mikel Arteta. Whether Wenger decides to rotate or stick with the same starting XI that brushed aside Stoke City, you expect Arsenal will have enough depth to at least get the result.
Dinamo Zagreb’s threat to that back four comes in the form of ex-Manchester United forward Angelo Henriquez, who has converted 25 goals in his last 31 games, while El Arbi Hilal Soudani has scored six goals in just five appearances for club and country. Momentum also favours the home side, who are currently enjoying a 41 match unbeaten run that stretches back to November 2014. Starting this season at a blistering pace, in contrast to Arsenal, the club are sitting at the summit of MAXtv Prva Liga whilst scoring 34 goals in just 15 domestic and European outings.
Although the Stadion Maksimir will provide a certain level of hostility for north London outfit, the 35,123 capacity ground comes with excellent connotations for the club. Theo Walcott sealed a hat-trick as a young England winger in 2008 while Arsenal also overcame tonight’s opposition 3-0 almost a decade ago.
Although the match could pose some threats, Arsenal are likely to return to England with all three points. The likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all beginning to hit top form and, if either Olivier Giroud or Theo Walcott can take their chances in Croatia, then it could prove to be a flawless performance.
Prediction: Dinamo Zagreb 0-3 Arsenal
Luke Blackstock, Arsenal writer:
A trip to Dinamo Zagreb is a must win game for Arsenal, whether they want to finish top of the group or qualify at all.
This should be a game where Arsenal dominate possession and create a lot of chances, in a way similar to the Stoke game last Saturday. The issue then was finishing and coming up against an in form goalkeeper like Jack Butland didn't help the Arsenal strikers. The issue may be the same again on Wednesday night, but Arsenal will still create chances and hopefully someone will be there to finish them.
Dinamo Zagreb aren't used to losing, they are currently on a 41 game unbeaten streak, and they won't want it to end here. This fighting spirit might pose a test for Arsenal. Also, Dinamo have one of Europe's form strikers in the form of ex-Manchester United player Angelo Henriquez. A team-mate of Alexis Sanchez for the Chilean national team, he's scored 33 goals in 42 appearances for the Croatian club, and he could trouble the Arsenal defence.
The Stadion Makaimir will be a tough place for Arsenal to travel and the Croatian fans will create a harsh atmosphere for the Gunners. As Champions League regulars, Arsenal are used to difficult atmospheres and they can thrive under them. Last season they won 4-1 in Istanbul against Galatasaray, which may be the toughest European ground to visit. Despite all this, Arsenal should have the quality to get through this game. No Per Metresacker is a bit of a blow but Gabriel has played well so far this season. With Theo Walcott in good form, and the ability to get goals from all areas of the pitch, a win seems likely for Arsenal.
Prediction: Dinamo Zagreb 0-2 Arsenal
Matt Dawson, Arsenal writer:
A trip to venues of such of hostility is never easy and will inevitably throw up a few obstacles along the way.
Arsenal will have to start quickly though and gain three points in what is probably their easiest away fixture of the group. If you consider Arsenal's form against Olympiacos in Greece and then the fact Bayern are in the Gunners' group, then it is vital that they win against Dinamo.
You can't really see Arsenal losing the game but anything could happen after their start to the season. There have been some laboured performances which will make people think that this could be a game where the Gunners stumble. Some of their recent Champions League campaigns have seen them drop points in matches and this could well determine just how Arsenal fare in this group. Wednesday night is one of those games but it is one that you'd think Arsenal would take a win away from. Bayern are expected to finish top but, if Arsenal do win against Zagreb, then then it'll set the team up nicely for the rest of their involvement in the competition.
Zagreb don't have an attacking force but Arsenal's defence will still need to cut out silly mistakes, which have seemingly occurred in these types of matches. How the midfield control the game will also be key, especially as Francis Coquelin has yet to experience the competition fully. It will, however, be interesting to see who starts up front. Whoever does start for Arsenal should have enough to win against the likes of Dinamo Zagreb though.
Prediction: Dinamo Zagreb 0-2 Arsenal
Brendan Kennelly, Arsenal writer:
Arsenal head into their 18th consecutive Champions League amidst a slow start to the Premier League but, with a group that contains German powerhouses Bayern Munich, Arsenal cannot afford a slow start in a group that also contains Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos.
Their opening European fixture of the season is a trip to Croatia to face Dinamo Zagreb, in what is sure to be a tricky encounter for Arsene Wenger's team. The main question is who will play as the striker for the Arsenal, as both Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud both got on the scoresheet against Stoke.
Arsenal cannot overlook the opposition, who are top of the Croatian League after nine games and are currently on an 11 month unbeaten run. With that being said, Arsenal will prove to be a much stiffer test than Zagreb are used to. Arsenal previously played Dinamo Zagreb in the 2006 third qualifying round and they won over the two legs on a 5-1 scoreline.
Arsene Wenger is wary of the game tomorrow night as he said Arsenal missed their opening game last year in Dortmund and this put them under pressure straight away. He then said the club had their “backs to the wall and had to really focus”. He then told Arsenal’s official website that “it is important that we [Arsenal] go to Zagreb and realise what is at stake”.
Out of all 18 seasons that Arsenal have been in the Champions League they have managed to get out of the group stages on 12 occasions, but will need a strong start to ensure history repeats itself once more.
Prediction: Dinamo Zagreb 1-3 Arsenal