The payback will be all the sweeter against a known offender of performance-enhancing drug rules. Dinamo midfielder Arijan Ademi failed even UEFA’s superficial drug test after the home leg in September. UEFA has suspended Ademi for four years, a verdict that’s been appealed.
That development makes the timing perfect for Arsenal. Ademi’s absence will affect the muscularity--ahem--of the Dinamo midfield, and it will emphasize the points Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger has made recently about doping in football.
Wenger has embarked on a solo campaign on the issue, beginning with his fascinating interview with L’Equipe Sport & Style’s Erik Bielderman (translated for Arseblog here). Wenger told Beilderman:
In 30 years as a manager, I’ve never had my players injected to make them better. I never gave them any product that would help enhance their performance. I’m proud of that. I’ve played against many teams that weren’t in that frame of mind.
The European governing body doesn’t seem to have appreciated the manager’s forthrightness. According to Wenger, UEFA has stepped up its oversight all right—of Arsenal.
“What I do know is that I came out on that [issue], and as a result we had a doping control from UEFA on Friday!” Wenger revealed at his pre-match press conference on Monday. “We had 10 people on Friday to control us!”
And he returned UEFA’s fire, saying the rule permitting victories to stand despite positive doping results “means you basically accept doping.”
There’s no better way for Arsenal’s players to support their manager than by laying waste to Dinamo Zagreb.
Certainly, the gap in talent makes Arsenal capable of doing that. Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez, in particular, provide an offensive threat that the Croatian side rarely sees.
The complicating factors facing Arsenal aren’t novel. The Gunners will have to cope with an extensive injury list, which since Saturday includes midfield linchpin Francis Coquelin, and they’ll be facing an obdurate defense.
Dinamo Zagreb’s plan at home was to frustrate the Arsenal attack and take advantage of any mental lapses. It worked the charm, as lazy tracking by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, inattentive defending of a corner, and Olivier Giroud’s red card doomed Arsenal to a 2-1 defeat. Manager Zoran Mamic will rely on an intensified version of this approach in London.
Mamic will be encouraged by Arsenal’s inability to break through West Brom’s deeply packed defense on Saturday. Arsenal had 73 percent possession but managed just three shots on target (of 11 shots total), according to FourFourTwo's StatsZone. And one of those, Giroud’s headed goal, came from a free kick.
The Gunners will need to move the ball more quickly and more imaginatively, ideally early in Tuesday’s match, to give Dinamo Zagreb what they have coming and to put recent flat performances behind them.
Regaining energy in this way may even be a more important objective than retaining hope of qualifying for the Champions League knockout stage. Arsenal need a victory against Dinamo and an Olympiacos loss at Bayern Munich to keep that possibility alive. If those two outcomes happen, Arsenal would need a two-goal win over Olympiacos in Athens in two weeks to reach the competition’s final 16.
In other words, in so many respects, this match calls for the maximum from Arsenal.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal. Alexis. Improbably, the Chilean devil rediscovered his verve against West Brom. If he can summon similar energy on Tuesday, Dinamo Zagreb won’t be able to handle him.
Dinamo Zagreb. Domajoc Antolic. The club captain returns from injury and must replace Ademi’s physical presence in midfield if Dinamo’s plan to frustrate Arsenal is to work.