It’s come down to this. We’re not out of November yet and Arsenal are already playing an elimination match in the Champions League. Should the Gunners fail to defeat Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday in London, they will be officially out of the Champions League at the group stage for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
For the past five seasons, they’ve been knocked out in the Round of 16. This time around, just reaching the Round of 16 will take more than a bit of luck.
Not only do the Gunners have to win both of their remaining Group F matches against Dinamo at the Emirates and then Olympiakos in Greece but they will need help from Bayern Munich to do so. Should Olympiakos manage a draw against the group leaders in Germany on Tuesday, both of those teams will qualify for the next round leaving Arsenal out. An Olympiakos win in Munich, however unlikely, would send the Greek side through to the next round and eliminate Arsenal. That’s because the Gunners cannot overtake Bayern on points and the Germans own the head-to-head between the two clubs, which is the first tiebreaker.
The good news is that the Gunners should be able to get the job done against the Croatian side. Dinamo Zagreb have not won any of their last 11 away games in the Champions League, losing nine of them. They’ve failed to score in eight of the 11 matches.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger also said in his Monday press conference that midfielder Aaron Ramsey is back from injury and would be available for the Dinamo encounter. But one of the club’s most important players, defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin, could be out for at least two months with a knee injury.
Coquelin is vitally important because, frankly, there is no one else in the Arsenal squad that has shown the same ability to handle the position in front of the back line. Wenger admitted that he may need to go out and make a move in the January transfer window if Coquelin’s injury turns out to be more than two months.
In the interim, Wenger has Mathieu Flamini as the obvious choice to fill in, especially since Mikel Arteta is also out with an injury. That’s just as well, given how poorly Arteta performed after coming on as a replacement for Coquelin in the early stages of Saturday’s 2-1 loss to West Brom in the Premier League. Wenger says he is also going to take a look at Calum Chambers, who has played as both a central and wide defender in his time at Arsenal. Why not? Last season, Wenger brought Coquelin back from his loan spell at Charlton to shore up the position and he proved to be one of the club’s best players the rest of the season.
Besides Coquelin and Arteta, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky are all ruled out through injury. Dinamo Zagreb will be without Arijan Ademi, who has been given a four-year doping ban by UEFA.