Arsenal starts their Champions League campaign away from home on Wednesday against high-flying Dinamo Zagreb.
Dinamo Zagreb haven’t lost in 41 matches and their last loss came in November of 2014 against Lokomotiva Zagreb in the group stages of the Europa League. They also became the first team in the Prva Liga, the top Croatian domestic league, to go a season unbeaten.
Zagreb’s 41 unbeaten run puts them eight matches behind Arsenal’s own unbeaten record of 49 matches and matches the same domestic success as the Invincibles during the 2003-2004 season.
Arsenal should not be fazed by Dinamo Zagreb’s unbeaten run considering that Arsenal have the better team in terms of individual quality. The Gunners cannot take this match lightly though considering that this Zagreb team knows how to win and playing in Croatia is never easy. Nacho Monreal made that clear in the build to this match.
“Everywhere you play, the atmosphere is massive, it does not matter if it is Champions League or if it is Premier League.
“Every single game there is a lot of pressure when you play away, but we are used to it and we have the experience to cope with playing in big away matches.
“It will be a big test for us, but if we concentrate on our strengths we know we can perform well.”
Arsenal will be without the services of Per Mertesacker after it was revealed that he had been suffering from a serious stomach viral infection for the past 18 days. The big German only recently joined the squad in training and he won’t make the trip to Croatia. Otherwise Arsene Wenger has a full squad available to him.
Wenger is likely to make some changes to his starting eleven so that certain squad players can get some much needed match time and others can rest ahead of Arsenal’s match against Chelsea this coming Saturday.
Here is Arsenal’s most likely starting eleven.
Goalkeeper – Cech
Petr Cech kept a second consecutive clean sheet over the weekend. He didn’t have much to do against Stoke City thanks to Arsenal’s commanding defensive performance. He will be looking for his third consecutive clean sheet in an Arsenal jersey.
Right Back – Debuchy
Mathieu Debuchy recently publicly admitted his disappointment and concern about being dropped in favor of Hector Bellerin. Wenger will use this match as an opportunity for Debuchy to gain some match fitness and push Bellerin for a spot in the squad.
Bellerin was one of Arsenal’s best performers against Stoke City over the weekend and Debuchy will have to do something very special to regain his place in the near future.
Center Backs – Koscielny & Gabriel
With Mertesacker not making the trip to Croatia, Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny will resume their successful partnership. Gabriel has looked very impressive in during his three games run in the first squad. When Mertesacker returns to full training and fitness, it is not a guarantee that he will return to the first team based on how well Gabriel has been playing.
Left Back – Gibbs
Like with Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs will be provided the opportunity to gain match fitness and push Monreal in the squad. Gibbs has been used as a substitute a few times this season towards the end of matches to secure the result.
Gibbs needs to take advantage of games like this one if he wants to make a meaningful impact this season.
Defensive Mid – Coquelin
It’s possible that Mikel Arteta makes his first start of the season on Wednesday, but Wenger will not likely want to tinker with his midfield chemistry too much, especially considering that they clicked very well against Stoke on Saturday.
Francis Coquelin will get a weeks rest after the Chelsea match.
Central Midfield – Cazorla
Santi Cazorla had his best match of this young season against Stoke. His movement and passing was sharp. Most notably though, his shooting improved, and although he did not score, he looked dangerous and made Jack Butland panic on a few occasions.
Attacking Mid – Özil
Mesut Özil’s exquisite pass over the top of Stoke’s defense, unleashed Theo Walcott who slotted home Arsenal’s first goal. He looked very strong in the middle of the field and was very influential in Arsenal’s ball movement. This may be a game that he sits out, but like Coquelin, he will get a weeks rest after the Chelsea match on Saturday.
Wide Right – Oxlade-Chamberlain
Aaron Ramsey will be granted rest and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will come into the squad, making his third start of the year. Arsenal will look to use their pacey front three to break down Dinamo Zagreb’s back four and Oxlade-Chamberlain will have a major role to play.
Wide Left – Alexis
Alexis is growing in every match this season and you can see his match sharpness increase every week. He hit the post twice against Stoke and was unlucky on one of them after replays showed that Butland made an excellent save to divert Alexis’ bullet header onto the post.
Additional match time ahead of the Chelsea match will do the Chilean some good and he too will be allowed a weeks rest after this weekend.
Striker – Walcott
Walcott came in for some criticism for not being more clinical in front of goal. He missed three chances from which he could have and probably should have scored. He did score Arsenal’s first goal though, and it was one that he took very well. He showed composure to place the ball past the oncoming Stoke keeper, and very good touch to bring the ball down over his shoulder.
Walcott is getting into the right positions and his pace and movement makes him dangerous in every match. Olivier Giroud did score a well-taken goal, but at the moment Walcott is playing with more confidence. Wenger may ride Walcott for now and use Giroud later in matches. Giroud has shown that he is a very capable super-sub in the past.