Arsenal 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb: Positives for Arsene Wenger
By Nick Wright at the Emirates Staidum
Last Updated: 25/11/15 1:16pm
Arsenal kept their Champions League hopes alive with a 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb as Bayern Munich thrashed Olympiakos in the other game in Group F. Here, Nick Wright reports on a morale-boosting night for the Gunners at the Emirates Stadium…
After a gruelling few weeks in which Arsenal have undergone what has become a customary November blip, the visit of Dinamo Zagreb provided some much-needed relief for Arsene Wenger and his players.
The Gunners had only won one of their previous five games in all competitions, a damaging run which included a 5-1 hammering by Bayern Munich, a 2-1 reverse to West Brom and a wave of injuries which most recently struck Francis Coquelin and Mikel Arteta at the Hawthorns.
But at a chilly Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night, victory was the only option. In order to progress the Gunners, who have lost three times away to Olympiakos in the last six years, will either need to beat the Greek side by two goals or by any margin as long as they score three goals or more. But there were plenty of positives to take from this victory, and they can approach the task ahead with renewed vigour.
With three goals and four assists, Alexis Sanchez has directly contributed more goals than any other player in the Champions League group stages.
As is often the case when Arsenal need some inspiration, it was Alexis Sanchez who stepped up to steal the show. The Chilean threw off his gloves in frustration after losing possession on several occasions in the opening stages, but things soon began to go his way, and his first decisive contribution was a perfectly measured cross for Mesut Ozil to head home Arsenal's opener.
Sanchez finished sharply from Nacho Monreal's cut-back for his first goal just four minutes later, and he showed his trademark speed and determination as he latched onto Joel Campbell's through ball before firing home his second after the break. It ended a six-game scoreless run for the Chilean.
There were other moments to enjoy, too. The 26-year-old toyed with Dinamo defenders by juggling the ball on his head at one moment in the second half, and there was the remarkable sight of him controlling a long ball using the top of his back on another occasion.
While Sanchez was the man of the match, Ozil wasn't far behind. Some of their interplay was mesmerising in its intricacy, and the influential German has now hand a hand in 11 goals in his last nine appearances. Only Santi Cazorla had more touches than Ozil, who created more chances (four) and had more shots on target (three) than anyone else.
"We played at a good pace, produced a game of quality that we wanted," said Wenger. "I believe the speed of our movement and passing gave Zagreb a problem. From then on, once we had scored the first goal you could see the chances were coming."
Joel Campbell's assist for Sanchez's second goal was his first of the season so far.
It was also a good night for Joel Campbell. Arsenal's injury crisis has presented the Costa Rican with a run of games in recent weeks, and Wenger described his performance as "outstanding" in his post-match press conference.
Campbell lined up on the right-hand side of Arsenal's attack having been dropped for Saturday's clash with West Brom, and he was heavily involved from the outset. The 23-year-old's pace and directness caused Zagreb plenty of problems, and his reverse pass for Sanchez's second goal was perfectly weighted.
He linked up well with full-back Hector Bellerin, and Wenger will have noted his impressive work-rate. As well as attacking to great effect, Campbell completed more successful tackles than any of his team-mates with four.
Arsenal limited Zagreb to only one shot of target to keep their ninth clean sheet of the campaign.
Arsenal's recent defensive performances have left a lot to be desired, but they were much improved here - albeit against rather limited opposition. The Gunners restricted their opponents to just one shot on target in the whole of the 90 minutes, and Petr Cech was alert to palm away a goalbound deflection on a rare moment of danger.
The Czech goalkeeper could be heard bellowing instructions to his back four from the press box at the Emirates, and the unit in front of him functioned well, with Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker regaining their poise in the centre and Nacho Monreal bombing forward to great effect on the left.
In central midfield, Mathieu Flamini was selected as Coquelin's replacement, and he acquitted himself well overall. The Gunners lack top-quality cover in that area and their depth will be more sternly tested by stronger opponents, but Flamini posted the highest passing accuracy on the pitch with 93 per cent, and he was a disciplined presence in front of the back four. Arsenal were further boosted by Aaron Ramsey's return from injury as a second-half substitute.
The Gunners have plenty of work left to do in the Champions League, but this was exactly what they needed after a testing spell. Sunday's trip to Norwich gives them an opportunity to build on it.