Arsenal kept alive their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League last 16 as Alexis Sanchez inspired a vital 3-0 win against Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday.
Arsene Wenger’s side were in severe danger of an embarrassingly early exit after losing three of their first four Group F matches. But Chile winger Sanchez was the catalyst for a result that, combined with Bayern Munich’s thrashing of Olympiakos, gives Arsenal renewed belief they can reach the knockout stages for a 16th successive year. Sanchez laid on Mesut Ozil’s first half opener at the Emirates Stadium, then struck himself before the interval and wrapped up the points with his second goal in the closing stages.
The Gunners still have work to do, however, as they face a shootout for a last 16 berth with Olympiakos in their final group fixture on Dec. 9. Second placed Olympiakos, 3-2 winners when the teams met earlier in the campaign, are three points ahead of Arsenal, and the north Londoners will only advance if they win in Greece by either a two-goal margin or by winning by a one-goal margin having scored three or more goals.
Even that tricky task will seem like a welcome assignment for Arsenal after they successfully navigated what could have been a nerve-jangling experience against Dinamo, whose shock 2-1 win over Wenger’s men in September had played a large role in their perilous predicament.
With their European campaign hanging by a slender thread, Wenger made two changes from Saturday’s defeat at West Bromwich Albion as Mathieu Flamini and Joel Campbell replaced Francis Coquelin and Kieran Gibbs.
Just one win from their last five matches was hardly ideal preparation for a do-or-die showdown, so it wasn’t surprising Arsenal made a nervous start. With Bayern doing their part to keep Arsenal in contention, the north Londoners needed to increase their own tempo after a sluggish start in a subdued atmosphere not helped by a surprisingly large amount of empty seats at the Emirates.
Wenger’s team had dominated possession without threatening to open up the massed ranks of the Dinamo defense, but they finally clicked into gear to take the lead with an incisive counter-attack in the 29th minute. Taking the ball deep inside his own half, Santi Cazorla moved possession onto Flamini, and he set Sanchez galloping clear in acres of space on the left. While Sanchez sprinted towards the Dinamo goal, Ozil had made his own lung-bursting surge, and the midfielder was perfectly placed in the six-yard box to bury a flying header from the Chilean’s clipped cross.