Dinamo Zagreb vs Arsenal match report: Gunners fail to find magic against Dinamo as Olivier Giroud sees red

Dinamo Zagreb 2 Arsenal 1

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The Independent Online

There was an earthquake here on Tuesday night which registered at 3.2 on the Richter scale, shaking the Stadion Maksimir sufficiently to briefly unnerve those contained within. Arsenal’s performance here would not have registered.

This is however a result that will send shockwaves through Group F and leave Arsenal with an uphill battle in their attempt to beat Bayern Munich to top spot.

Any further performances like this and Arsène Wenger’s proud record of qualifying for the last 16 in each of the last 15 seasons could be in jeopardy.

 

Put simply, the decision to rotate his squad backfired spectacularly. For 20 minutes, Arsenal penned Dynamo Zagreb in their own half but with Francis Coquelin left on the bench, the Gunners were almost embarrassingly vulnerable to the simplest of counter-attacks.

The malaise was compounded by Olivier Giroud’s 40th minute sending off. Both yellow cards were harsh but utterly avoidable, the first for protesting unnecessarily at the award of an innocuous free-kick against him, the second a striker’s challenge far more amateur than antagonistic.

There is, of course, plenty of time for Arsenal to recover but this was a chastening night for Wenger who consistently claimed there were no outfield players available in the transfer market that could strengthen his existing group.

Displays like this make a mockery of that assertion. In mitigation, several players looked short of match sharpness but Wenger’s misplaced faith in his squad has at the very least put them on the back foot in this group.

To put this game into the appropriate context, Josip Pivaric and Junior Fernandes gave Dynamo their first Champions League group stage win in 16 matches dating back to September 1999 with many here palpably surprised at ending that run against such established opposition.

This unusual arena – characterised by wide open spaces and oddly sized stands – was not a cauldron of hostility given the ongoing boycott by Dynamo’s fanatics, known as ‘Bad Blue Boys’, over the controversial running of the club.

Brothers Zdravko and Zoran Mamic are awaiting trial on charges of embezzlement, tax evasion and bribery, prompting protest among the club’s most ardent fans, leading to an attendance well below the ground’s 38,000 capacity whose noise was further diluted by their location some distance from the pitch.

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Theo Walcott gives Arsenal hope

Arsenal made six changes to the team which beat Stoke  2-0 on Saturday. David Ospina, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Giroud were all recalled to the starting line-up with Wenger mindful that this represented the first of four successive away games in three different competitions, continuing with Saturday’s Premier League trip to Chelsea.

This was the venue where Theo Walcott scored a fabulous hat-trick for England in 2008 and despite impressing in a central role last weekend, Giroud led the attack here and had the game’s first meaningful chance in the ninth minute.

Santi Cazorla swung over a corner and Giroud rose highest to head goalwards from close range only for Eduardo to produce a fine save. Either side of that opportunity, Marko Pjaca showed some smart footwork to create two chances to try his luck from long range but both efforts were well off target.

Giroud had another effort blocked by Jeremy Taravel as Arsenal stationed themselves extremely high up the pitch in an attempt to suffocate Dynamo into submission. Oxlade-Chamberlain burst down the right and crossed for Giroud, whose first effort rebounded off the post before his second was smothered by Eduardo.

Dynamo were reduced to sporadic raids forward but it was from one such foray that they took the lead. El Arabi Hilal Soudani found a pass to match Pivaric’s run into the box behind the Arsenal defence. Ospina came out to meet him but could only push the ball out towards the onrushing Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had no time to react as the ball ricocheted off him and into the net.

Wenger emerged from the dugout and stood hands on hips in his technical area bemused by the situation unravelling before him. It would get worse. Giroud had been booked for dissent moments before Arsenal fell behind and Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan showed no leniency when the Frenchman mistimed a tackle on  Ivo Pinto.

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Arsene Wenger reacts on the touchline

Wenger opted against making any changes at the interval – as he so often does – as Arsenal instead reverted to what was effectively a 4-2-3 system with Sanchez assuming a more central role.

Yet it was Dynamo who started the half better with Soudani turning Paulo Machado’s corner onto the post as Oxlade-Chamberlain contorted his body to try and clear.

Next Soudani made a powerful run into the box and the loose ball fell to Fernandes, whose shot was deflected over. From the resulting corner taken by Machado, Fernandes easily beat Koscielny to the ball and headed home to double the hosts’ advantage.

Wenger responded – eventually – with a triple change in the 64th minute, withdrawing Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gibbs for Francis Coquelin, Walcott and Joel Campbell.

Arsenal switched to 4-3-2 and halved the deficit with 11 minutes remaining as Walcott collecting Sanchez’s through ball, raced clear and slotted the ball smartly past Eduardo.

But it proved in vain. Arsenal lost their opening group game last season against Borussia Dortmund before recovering to finish top. You sense that task will be harder this time.

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