Champions League survival is the rallying cry echoing around the Emirates as Groundhog Day dawns again at Arsenal.
A victory against Dynamo Zagreb might not be enough to sustain the Gunners in the competition should Olympiakos pull off at least a draw at Bayern Munich in the other Group F match on Tuesday evening, begging the question: how do Arsenal find themselves in this pickle in the first place?
Defeat by West Bromwich in the Premier League on Saturday left Arsenal back in a negative cycle after the fireworks of October, when they chalked up five victories, including the scalps of Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
The setback, of course, provides their manager, Arsène Wenger, with an opportunity to resurrect the bounce back shtick he so favours in times of trouble, and is at least a part of the motivation he is using to rouse his maddeningly inconsistent side. “We came out of a game disappointed but we know we shouldn’t [have lost],” Wenger said yesterday of the Albion game.
“We didn’t deserve to lose this game and I believe this team is resilient, focused and ambitious and we will respond well tomorrow.”
He is not helped by the kind of injury crisis that seems to afflict Arsenal all too readily. Wenger learned yesterday that Francis Coquelin would be out for at least two months with knee ligament damage sustained at West Bromwich.
That further stretches resources in a squad already missing the long-term injured Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, and Tomas Rosicky, plus Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. While acknowledging the scale of the loss, Wenger rolled out the standard platitudes about opportunity for others.
“It is, of course, a disappointment to lose him in the longer term but we have in the squad the players who can compensate. We have lost a player of quality for a while but we know that can happen.
“Injuries are a concern. We have been hit hard in November. It looks like we have more injuries than others. But now we have [Aaron] Ramsey and at the weekend Chamberlain back, after that Walcott.
“We have players who play in this position [defensive midfield] like Mathieu Flamini and Calum Chambers. Sometimes this is a good opportunity for other players to turn up and do the job. I will do what is needed in January, knowing as well it is not an ideal transfer market.”
Wenger is at least buoyed by the return to training of Ramsey, though after just one session following his hamstring injury, the manager was unwilling to say whether his midfielder would start tonight, recognising that to do so would entail risk.
Victory for Arsenal against the team that beat them in the opening game of the group stage is the minimum requirement. Should Olympiakos oblige with defeat in Munich then Arsenal would have to reverse the home loss to the Greeks in their final group game in Athens.
The mathematics would require Arsenal to beat Olympiakos by two clear goals or score at least four to establish the better head-to-head record after the 3-2 defeat at the Emirates. Should that come to pass, Wenger believes his team could spring a surprise in the knockout stages.
“The players like to play in this competition. If we go through we can be very dangerous for everybody with the players we have coming back. We need a positive result from Bayern but that only has impact if we win.”
Defender Per Mertesacker echoed Wenger’s positive outlook, saying: “It’s a must win. We need to deliver and that’s what I like. It has been a difficult competition for us but there is still a chance and we want to take it. We beat one of best teams in Europe at home. Let’s put that in our minds. I’m sure it will help.”
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