By Richard Clarke
Arsenal came from behind to secure their first ever victory at Emirates Stadium and safe passage into the Champions League group stage with a 2-1 win against Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday.
Arsène Wenger's side already had a handsome 3-0 advantage from the first leg in Croatia but, when Eduardo scored in the 11th minute, there was more than a little concern.
Arsenal should have levelled before the break but the visitors gradually grew in confidence as the game went on. However the introduction of more experienced heads settled any nerves late on. In his first game as captain, Freddie Ljungberg nodded home the equaliser 13 minutes from the end. Then, deep into injury time, the unmarked Mathieu Flamini scored from close range.
The home side will put in much better performance's at this great stadium. But this was good enough for tonight and, more importantly, they achieved all their objectives in the tie.
The three most experienced players in the first-team squad were omitted tonight as Wenger relied on the younger elements of his squad to complete the job of qualification.
Jens Lehmann had picked up a knee injury so Manuel Almunia stepped in. In contrast, Henry and Gilberto were perfectly fit yet they still dropped to the bench to allow Robin van Persie and Flamini to step in. Theo Walcott was on the bench despite his eye-catching cameo against Aston Villa at the weekend.
Emirates Stadium was resplendent for both its first night game and European tie. Despite a 3-0 lead, Wenger had said he would remind his side of the need for focus and concentration. They did not heed his warning.
After only 11 minutes, Zagreb grabbed an unlikely goal. Eduardo broke down the left and pushed the ball into the path of Etto just inside the area. He cut it back into the area and when Toure failed to clear the ball effectively it fell nicely for the Brazilian-born Croatian international to strike left-footed into the far corner of the net.
For the third time in their first three games at Emirates, Arsenal were behind.
However in Dennis Bergkamp's testimonial and the Premiership game with Villa, the home side had revived themselves sufficiently to avoid defeat. In the minutes that followed tonight's team, via Van Persie, did their best to repeat the trick
Fabregas floated over a free-kick Toure nodded down and the Dutchman let fly from the right-side of the area. It looked certain to find the net but Jasmin Agic stretched out a leg to divert the ball onto the bar.
A couple of minutes later Van Persie tricked Mario Cvitanovic close to the byline but his keeper Ivan Turina blocked his shot at the near post. Ljungberg, who was captain for the night, had a effort saved and Adebayor nodded over as the Zagreb goal started to lead a charmed life.
But there was a shot across the bows, literally, in the 31st minute when Luka Modric crossed low and the stretching Ognjen Vukojevic just failed to convert a cross at the far post.
Arsenal response was more and more pressure however Turina was never unduly troubled and, in injury time, Etto thumped an effort past Almunia's right-hand post.
If anything the visitors looked like they were warming to their task after half time. However Adebayor should have calmed Arsenal's fears in the 53rd minute when Zoran Mamic diverted the ball into his path 12 yards out. The unmarked Togolese striker thumped the ball over the bar when he should have scored.
The goal just would not come so with 25 minutes left Wenger threw on Henry. It was a just-to-make-sure substitution.
Despite seeing Eduardo's free-kick whistled just past the post, Zagreb were no longer looking like they could grab another and Wenger brought on Gilberto shortly afterwards to shore up the midfield.
With 13 minutes left, Carlos De Jesus fouled Emmanuel Eboue on the right. Van Persie floated over the free-kick and Ljungberg, probably the smallest player on the pitch, flicked home a header into the far corner.
It was the Dutchman's last touch, he was replaced by Walcott. The 17-year-old once again made a telling late contribution. In the final seconds he crossed low for the unmarked Flamini to complete the victory with almost the last kick of the game.
- Djourou Yellow Card
- Ljungberg Goal!
- Hleb 70
- Flamini Goal! Yellow Card
- Persie 80
- Adebayor 65
- Walcott 80 Yellow Card
- Silva 70
- Henry 65
- Drpic Yellow Card
- Eduardo Goal!
- Agic 70 Yellow Card
- Buljat 70