Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat away to Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday was surely disappointing to Gunner fans. In fact, disappointing is probably not a strong enough word. After all, Arsenal went into the match as heavy, heavy favorites, and the Croatians had not recorded a Champions League group stage victory since 1999 prior to their historic win against the Premier League club.
As bad as the performance in Zagreb was, the Gunners are still favorites to finish second in Group F and qualify for the knockout phase of the Champions League. Finishing second in the group behind Bayern Munich is something that most pundits and fans alike predicted for Arsenal even before the match took place.
While the north London outfit put themselves in a bit of a hole because of the loss, they were in a similar situation just last year and were still able to advance. The Gunners lost their first Champions League group stage match during the 2014-15 campaign to Borussia Dortmund, 2-0, only to still reach 13 points in the group and move onto the next phase.
Perhaps one silver lining following Wednesday’s match is that a chunk of the starting XI was rested. Midfielder Aaron Ramsey and defenders Per Mertesacker and Hector Bellerin did not even travel. Other usual starters Petr Cech and Nacho Monreal remained in the dugout, and Francis Coquelin and Theo Walcott started the game on the bench, but were used as substitutes in the second half.
With their next match away to rivals Chelsea on Saturday, Arsenal have a big opportunity to put the Zagreb debacle behind them. A victory for the Gunners would not only tremendously boost spirits within the club but could potentially catapult their blue rivals into a tailspin. Chelsea have recorded just one win in their first five Premier League matches and are currently sitting in 17th place.
Although the Blues are certainly in a tough spot in the standings, Arsenal have not had much success at Stamford Bridge over the last decade. The Gunners have left the Bridge with a victory just twice out of their last 13 meetings in west London (last win away to Chelsea was in 2011). A Chelsea triumph could help get the Blues back on track in league play, as well as demoralize the Gunners.
Nevertheless, news that Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has already ruled out attacking duo Pedro and Willian for the cross-town clash at the weekend will surely benefit Arsenal. The pace and quality of the aforementioned wingers is undeniable and their injuries could be a big blow to the club.
Ultimately, the Gunners can quickly bounce back with a win at the weekend. Though it will surely be difficult, a positive match against Chelsea will help ease the pain of the inexcusable defeat in Croatia on Wednesday. The next month will be a crucial period for Arsenal, as they face off against Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City, Olympiacos and Manchester United all within the next 17 days.
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