Arsenal face a very tough ask if they are to rescue their Champions League campaign, and anything other than a victory at home to Dinamo Zagreb will see them exit the competition at the group stage.
The Londoners currently sit bottom of Group F alongside Dinamo Zagreb on three points, six behind the top two. That means that even if they do take the three points, if Olympiakos avoid defeat away to leaders Bayern Munich, they would be eliminated. If results go their way on Tuesday, they will have to see off the Greek champions by two clear goals on match day six.
In truth, things have unravelled on the European stage from the start, when Arsenal travelled to the Croatian capital in September and suffered a crushing, unexpected defeat which was made worse by the sending off of Olivier Giroud and the news which later emerged regarding Zagreb midfielder Arijan Ademi, who tested positive in a drug test following the game and has recently been given a four-year ban from football related activity. Somewhat controversially, that has not affected the validity of the result in the eyes of UEFA.
In the last Champions League match, Arsenal were well and truly torn to pieces by a rampant Bayern side, extinguishing the positivity which arose after their 2-0 home success over Joesp Guardiola’s team a fortnight previously. It could have been more embarrassing than the eventual 5-1 scoreline, given the ease at which their defence was so often breached, but here they will not be up against such firepower.
This encounter also comes after a hugely disappointing weekend for Arsenal, as they missed another opportunity to go top of the Premier League and instead found themselves slipping to fourth position after defeat at West Bromwich Albion. It was a result which never seemed likely after they went 1-0 up, but two sloppy goals conceded in the space of five minutes and then a second half where everything seemed to go wrong sent them home cursing. Santi Cazorla’s unfortunate penalty miss summed up their afternoon.
On the positive side, Giroud continued his fabulous scoring form by getting on the end of another Mesut Ozil delivery. The efficiency with which those two are now combining is adding an extra dimension to the team’s play, while the Frenchman is very much showing that he is the No. 1 striker at the Emirates Stadium. He will be called upon again here and will hope to banish the memory of that dismissal in Zagreb.
The visitors are already effectively out of the Champions League, due to their inferior head-to-head record against the top two, but will have their sights set on third place and a spot in the Europa League and so will try to make sure they are difficult to break down in this one. They find themselves in the unfamiliar position of trailing the leaders domestically, as they sit two points behind unbeaten leaders Rijeka in the Croatian top-flight.
Aaron Ramsey should be fit enough to return to the Arsenal squad, but there are doubts over the fitness of fellow midfielders Mikel Arteta and Francis Coquelin, who both came off at West Brom with knocks. This match comes too soon for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.