Arsenal duly completed the first step on the long road back to the Champions' League final last night, but it was not without a stumble for last season's runners-up
Going into the match with a seemingly impregnable 3-0 advantage from the first leg, they conceded early and could easily have had their aggregate lead cut further. However, an often frustrating night ended in joy with news of Chelsea's defeat adding a celebratory note to the relief felt when late goals from Freddie Ljungberg and Mathieu Flamini secured their first victory at their new home.
"It is a relief [to get through], and to win at home," said Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager. He added: "We know how important [qualification] is to the club, both financially and to us as a team. And if we did not win people would say, 'You can't win at the new stadium', so it is good to get that out of the way."
The knowledge that they were virtually assured of a place in today's draw contributed to Arsenal's ponderous start. "It is difficult to put any urgency in when you are three-nil up," Wenger said. It took 12 minutes for Arsenal to be punished for allowing the visitors time to demonstrate their neat passing and technical quality. Eduardo exchanged passes with Etto, took advantage of a poor interception by Kolo Touré, and swept the ball past Manuel Almunia.
With Robin van Persie prominent in a deep-lying role, and the wide men pushing on, Arsenal pressed forward. Within 10 minutes Emmanuel Adebayor nodded a Cesc Fabregas free-kick down to Van Persie but his shot was acrobatically cleared by Mario Cvitanovic. Van Persie, demonstrating clever sleight of foot, then brought a decent save from Ivan Turina. Ljungberg also tested the goalkeeper but, on the break, Zagreb could twice have struck, only for both Luka Modric and Etto to shoot into the side netting.
Arsenal's growing nerves should have been settled after 52 minutes as Justin Hoyte's cross found its way to Adebayor, unopposed and 15 yards from goal. The Togolese striker blasted over the bar. Wenger looked disgusted. One could only feel sorry for him. This night of all nights he must have anticipated being able to enjoy the game; instead he had spent it fretting like a father in a maternity ward.
Finally, after both Thierry Henry and Gilberto Silva had been pressed into action, Ljungberg put him out of his misery, stooping to glance in Van Persie's left-wing free-kick with 13 minutes remaining.
The party began, given further impetus by the introduction of Theo Walcott. In injury time the teenager delivered the cross from which Flamini, unmarked, tapped in to record the historic first home win at the new ground. The biggest roar, however, was reserved for the news from the Riverside.
* Julien Brellier and Neil McCann were sent off as Hearts' hopes of reaching the Champions' League ended with a comprehensive 3-0 defeat away to AEK Athens last night, the Greeks completing a 5-1 win on aggregate.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Almunia; Eboué, Touré, Djourou, Hoyte; Fabregas, Flamini; Hleb (Gilberto, 69), Van Persie ( Walcott, 81), Ljungberg; Adebayor (Henry, 65). Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Song, Cygan, Aliadière.
Dynamo Zagreb (5-4-1): Turina; Dpric, Corluka, Mamic, Cvitanovic, De Jesus; Modric, Vukojevic (Ljubojevic, 89), Agic (Buljat, 69), Etto (Tomic, 90); Eduardo. Substitutes not used: Loncaric (gk), Costa, Pandev.
Referee: B Layec (France).Reuse content