By Rob Kelly in Zagreb
“I’m sure of one thing - that Dinamo Zagreb will be 100 per cent focused and at their best so we have to show that we can compete on that level and after that we have a chance to take the points.” - Arsene Wenger
There was only one topic of conversation at Arsene Wenger’s pre-match press conference in Zagreb on Tuesday evening - Jack Wilshere.
News had just broken of the midfielder's impending surgery on his left fibula, and while the manager was happy to discuss it and offer his support, he was equally keen to stress the importance of the job in hand.
A trip to Zagreb is not quite a trip into the unknown for Arsenal - they have played here once before in the Champions League, in 2006 - but the Croats are not opponents they are as familiar with as their other Group F adversaries, Bayern Munich and Olympiacos.
Yet Zagreb will pose a fierce test. The Croatian champions won their domestic league at a canter last season, not losing a game and, in fact, are unbeaten in 11 months overall. While Wenger accepts that his side are favourites for their opening match, he is wary of the threat the hosts pose.
“What it means to be favourite in football is that if all your players perform at their best and play together for the team it means you have more chance than your opponent to win,” he said.
|Dinamo Zagreb: None
Arsenal: Wilshere (leg), Rosicky (knee), Mertesacker (ill), Welbeck (knee)
“To achieve that, you must be absolutely 100 per cent focused and I’m sure of one thing - that Dinamo Zagreb will be 100 per cent focused and at their best so we have to show that we can compete on that level. After that we have a chance to take the points.
“But football is football and everybody has their chances but we will only have chances if we play our way.
“Zagreb always have a very strong team. Croatian football always produces top-level technical quality and that’s where their strength is. They are very strong going forward on the flanks, they have very gifted young players and their technical level is always outstanding.”
ONE TO WATCH
For all the positive signs the Gunners exhibited in their 2-0 victory against Stoke on Saturday, perhaps the most encouraging was the form of Alexis Sanchez.
The Chilean has been a revelation since his arrival at the club but, after a busy summer winning the Copa America, he could be forgiven a slow start to the campaign.
Not a bit of it. Alexis was thrust into action almost from the off, and he was at his most dynamic in the opening stages on Saturday, hitting the post twice as Stoke almost wilted under his - and Arsenal’s - sustained assault.
Wenger is pleased to see his forward in such form, and will be hoping for more of the same at the Stadion Maksimir on Wednesday evening. “He is an important player because he creates chances and he finishes chance so that is a vital part in football,” the boss said.
Arsenal will have to watch out for former Manchester United striker Angelo Henriquez in their Group F opener.
The Chilean is an international team-mate of Alexis and is a fan favourite at Dinamo Zagreb, scoring 21 times in 25 appearances on loan last term before making the move permanent this summer.
So far this season he has four goals in six appearances, and is expected to be a major threat. Blessed with pace and strength, Henriquez will try to stretch the Gunners defence and he likes to drift into space and get on the end of crosses, given his strength in the air.
Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel will have to keep a close eye on him, and deny him the space he tends to thrive in.
Arsène Wenger has taken charge of 168 games in the Champions League, more than any other current manager. Only Alex Ferguson boasts more games (190)
Arsenal have won their last three Champions League away games. They’ve not won four in a row on the road since February 2006
Dinamo have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last eight home games in European competition (all qualifiers)
Arsenal have won 76 games in the Champions League – the most of any team not to win the competition
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