Preview by Numbers: Dinamo Zagreb v. Arsenal, Champions League Group Matchday 1

Stadion Maksimir, Zagreb
Wednesday, September 16
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials from Romania
    • Referee: Ovidiu Hategan
    • Assistants: Octavian Sovre and Sebastian Gheorghe
    • 4th Official: Radu Ghinguleac
    • Additional Assistants: Alexandru Tudor and Sebastian Coltescu
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 2 Arsenal wins
  • Arsenal's European Form: W-D-W-W-L-W (all last year)
  • Dinamo Zagreb's European Form: D-W-D-D-W-W (all qualifying)
What are you so happy about?
Pack your bags! We're going to Europe!

Then, unpack your bags, because you do not play for Arsenal. Unless you're visiting Zagreb as a road supporter, in which case you should be in Croatia already, so yes, unpack your bags.

Arsenal have had a knack for making their progress through Europe as difficult as possible over the last few seasons. Dropped points have led to second place group finishes, which have led to tricky Round of 16 opponents, which have led to horrible first leg performances, which have led to really awesome second leg performances that don't quite make up for the disastrous first leg result. With Bayern Munich in Arsenal's group this year, the Gunners cannot really afford to drop points to Dinamo Zagreb or Olympiacos.

Dinamo, however, are unbeaten in 41 competitive fixtures, so Arsenal will have their work cut out for them against the Croatian champions. It's a game Arsenal should win, but we all know how those turn out sometimes...

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Welbeck (surgery,) Wilshere (surgery,) Rosicky (let's face it, probably surgery)
Rested: Bellerin, Ramsey
Doubts: Mertesacker (hydroplane)

Steer into the skid!
What squad catastrophes have befallen us this week? Well, Per Merteacker's difficult month has continued. After missing 18 days of training with some sort of super illness, Per's car hydroplaned (or aquaplaned, which might be a UK vs US thing?) and crashed as he drove home from practice on Monday; he's not injured but "a little shaken." Poor BFG can't catch a break these days...

Speaking of breaks (as in bones,) yet another Arsenal player needed surgery. After the Welbeck debacle (Welbacle?) it has been announced that Jack Wilshere will miss another three months to repair the hairline fracture in his fibula. Wilshere has missed 118 Arsenal matches since suffering his first ankle injury in the 2011 Emirates Cup.

As for the Arsenal XI that doesn't presently need surgery, I would expect Arsene Wenger to rotate a little, with a trip to Stamford Bridge looming on the horizon. I don't really know what that would entail, though. When you have two opponents ahead who will likely sit deep and absorb pressure, in which match do you start Theo Walcott to use his speed to exploit that? We've seen Walcott neutralized by a deep-lying Newcastle defense after their red card a few weeks back. Personally, I'd play Olivier Giroud tonight and Theo on Saturday. Then again, I've always been pro-Giroud, almost to a fault, so what do I know?

As for other rotation, will we see Mathieu Debuchy? Kieran Gibbs? Do we still have Mathieu Flamini? Are there any other Mathieus? Mikel Arteta? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? Joel Campbell? Jeff Reine-Adelaide?  Me? Remember, some kids should get a run out next Wednesday in the League Cup, though that's also a North London derby, which could require a little more experience than your usual League Cup tie.

Since Arsenal had to, you know, fly to Croatia, we know who they took on the plane, which gives us some of a hint as to what kind of rotation we'll see. To that end, Hector Bellerin and Aaron Ramsey stayed back in London, which likely means starts for Debuchy and the Ox.

Predicted XI: Cech, 10 other guys picked at random out of Cech's hat.

Dinamo Zagreb Squad News

Out: None
Suspended: Santos (one match)

Zagreb's striker (left) appears to have been the second person
to hug Alexis Sanchez after his Copa America winning penalty.
The first appears to have been Mauricio Isla.
I'm always suspicious of teams that appear to have a clean bill of health well after the start of the season; it's September and the season is already a month old, somebody has to be a little knackered somewhere, right? In any case, accurate information can be hard to come by for some foreign teams during European competition, so I'll have to take Who Scored's word for it that Dinamo Zagreb have no injury fears ahead of tonight's match.

So, let's talk tactics. While Dinamo have been rampaging through the Croatian league yet again, they were a bit leaky at the back during the European qualification campaign, conceding seven over six matches. They needed away goals to beat last year's Norwegian champion (when they blew a 3-0 lead in the second leg.) Then, on transfer deadline day, center back Jozo Simunovic signed for Celtic.

They've got an experienced goalkeeper in Eduardo, who has won 34 caps for Portugal. Up top, they have Chilean international Angelo Henriquez, who spent three years in Manchester United's system, though he never appeared for their senior team.

Dinamo will be without Goncalo Santos after he was sent off from their last European match.

Predicted XI: Eduardo, Pinto, Taravel, Sigali, Pivaric, Antolic, Machado, Rog, Pjaca, Soudani, Henriquez.

Current Form

Dinamo Zagreb celebrate their late winner against Skenderbeu
in the first leg of their final qualifying round.
Since the season opening loss to West Ham, Arsenal have bounced back with a four match unbeaten run, winning three and drawing one. On the plus side, they have also managed to start scoring goals for themselves, even if they have fluffed most of their league-leading shots on target. It's almost reminiscent of two years ago, when Arsenal lost their opener to Aston Villa, then went unbeaten in 12. That team didn't really have the same problems scoring (they just hemorrhaged goals in big road games.) As for their European record, including playoffs, Arsenal have won seven and drawn two of their last 11 road fixtures in the Champions League, losing only at Dortmund last year and Napoli the year before.

On last year's UEFA Europa League group matchday 5, Dinamo Zagreb lost 1-0 in Romania to Astra Giurgiu. Plavi, or the Blues, have not lost a competitive fixture since, en route to an unbeaten title winning season in the league and an undefeated start to the 2015/16 campaign. Their five wins and four draws through nine league fixtures this season leaves them three points clear of second place Hajduk Split at the top of the Croatian league table.

In addition, they successfully navigated three rounds worth of playoffs to qualify for the Champions League group stage, defeating Fola Esch from Luxembourg, Molde from Norway, and Skenderbeu from Albania to qualify via the "champions route" (as opposed to the non-champions route through which Arsenal is usually forced to qualify.)

Match Facts

Arsenal's squad for their last trip to Croatia...
Arsenal and Dinamo Zagreb have met in one previous Champions League tie, in the final qualifying round before the 2006 group stage; Arsenal won the tie 5-1 on aggregate, winning both matches.

Arsenal scored twice in two minutes just after the hour mark in the first leg in Croatia to take a 2-0 lead, en route to a 3-0 victory. Cesc Fabregas had a brace, while Robin van Persie had the other goal; I considered not mentioning that at all. The second leg, in London, was Arsenal's first win at the new Emirates Stadium. Zagreb struck first in that match, in the 11th minute with a goal from Eduardo, who would join Arsenal the following summer. Arsenal went on to win 2-1, with goals from Freddie Ljungberg and Mathieu Flamini.

Arsenal's only other matches against Croatian opponents came in 1978 (when they were still Yugoslavia,) against Hajduk Split in the UEFA Cup second round. Arsenal lost 2-1 in Split in the first leg, but won 1-0 at Highbury to advance on away goals. Arsenal lost in the next round to Red Star Belgrade.

Dinamo Zagreb have never beaten an English side; in nine matches, they've lost seven and drawn two.

The Referee

Not just regular controversy, but racist controversy.
The match officials are from Romania; the referee is Ovidiu Hategan. This will be the first time Hategan will work a match for both Arsenal and Dinamo Zagreb. In fact, the only Champions League match Hategan has taken charge of involving either of the two countries involved here was Manchester City's 2-1 win at CSKA Moscow during the 2013 group stage.

Of course, that match was not without controversy; Hategan reportedly failed to follow UEFA protocol when Yaya Toure complained about racist chants coming from the Moscow fans. That protocol dictates that the referee should inform the stadium crew that an announcement denouncing the behavior should be made over the public address system. The chairman of FIFA's "Kick It Out" anti-racism campaign went as far as saying Hategan "should not be refereeing again."

However, Hategan was cleared of any UEFA charges when it was determined that he had indeed instructed the fourth official to do so; the venue director ignored the request of the fourth official.

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Paris St. Germain 2 - 0 Malmo
  • Tuesday: Real Madrid 4 - 0 Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Tuesday: PSV Eindhoven 2 - 1 Manchester United
  • Tuesday: Wolfsburg 1 - 0 CSKA Moscow
  • Tuesday: Benfica 2 - 0 Astana
  • Tuesday: Galatasaray 0 - 2 Atletico Madrid
  • Tuesday: Manchester City 1 - 2 Juventus
  • Tuesday: Sevilla 3 - 0 Borussia Monchengladbach
  • Wednesday: Roma v. Barcelona; Stadio Olimpico, Rome
  • Wednesday: Bayer Leverkusen v. BATE Borisov; BayArena, Leverkusen
  • Wednesday: Olympiacos v. Bayern Munich; Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus
  • Wednesday: Chelsea v. Maccabi Tel Aviv; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Wednesday: Dynamo Kiev v. Porto; NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, Kiev
  • Wednesday: Gent v. Lyon; Ghelamco Arena, Ghent
  • Wednesday: Valencia v. Zenit St. Petersburg; Mestalla Stadium, Valencia
John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and a WITCH! You can either BURN THE WITCH or follow him on Twitter @zorrocat.