The end of a 16-year wait, a tactical triumph for Zoran Mamić and an Arsenal side left vowing to recover: our reporter Vjekoslav Paun reviews Dinamo Zagreb's 2-1 victory.
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It has been a 16-year wait, but it was worth it in the end as Dinamo Zagreb celebrated their first UEFA Champions League group win since 29 September 1999.
Arsenal, a team that has made it through the group stage in all the 15 seasons since Dinamo's 3-0 defeat of Sturm Graz, were the victims at the Maksimir Stadium on Wednesday night. The celebrations were long and hard; the question of whether Dinamo can get past a UEFA club competition group for the first time in 11 attempts can wait.
Marko Rog, the most expensive signing in the history of Dinamo, and Ángelo Henríquez both surprisingly started on the bench as coach Zoran Mamić opted for a more defensive tactical formation with Domagoj Antolić starting. Mamić looked to play on the counterattack, an approach that worked to perfection for former Croatia coach Slaven Bilić when his West Ham team won 2-1 at Arsenal last month.
The first shock for Arsenal came after 25 minutes when El Arabi Hilal Soudani superbly set up Josip Pivarić, whose shot was saved by David Ospina, but richocheted in off Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The second Gunners setback was the second yellow card for Olivier Giroud five minutes before half-time.
That was not the key factor, though, according to Dinamo midfielder Arijan Ademi. "I do not think it was the red card which decided the match," he said. "We played a great match."
Still, Dinamo came out more aggressively in the second half, and after Soudani had already hit the woodwork, Junior Fernandes headed them 2-0 up in the 58th minute. "I am delighted that I scored against Arsenal," said the Chilean, who hails from Tocopilla, the same small town as Alexis Sánchez. "This was a great evening for all of us."
There was a bit of a concern when substitute Theo Walcott – who scored a hat-trick in this stadium for England six years ago – pulled one back but in the end Dinamo held out comfortable for the three points. "We did not play well, but we have enough matches to come back," said Mikel Arteta.
Indeed, Arsenal opened their campaign last season with a 2-0 loss to Borussia Dortmund but recovered in a group also comprising Galatasaray and Anderlecht. However, with Bayern München and their matchday two visitors Olympaicos also in Group F, Arsenal have to work hard to repeat the trick this time.