Arsene Wenger has stressed that Arsenal are determined to make amends for last season’s Champions League failure, as they return to European action at Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday. Arsenal have been one of the competition’s most consistent sides, reaching the group stage now for the 18th consecutive season and having made it past that first round for the last 15 years. Yet they remain without ultimate success in the Champions League, with their only final ending in defeat to Barcelona in 2006.
For the last five years, Arsenal’s European campaign has been ended disappointingly in the Round of 16. And last season brought the most painful loss of all as they were surprisingly sent packing by Monaco, after the Ligue 1 side won 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium. And Wenger is motivated for his side to put that right this season, although he is not yet letting his mind wander to the thought of holding the trophy aloft in Milan next May.
“If we missed one game last year in the Champions League, then it was our home game with Monaco,” Wenger said in his pre-match press conference in Zagreb. “We were not patient enough and we wanted to make the difference in the first game. We know we have some way to put that right, that is a regret of our season last year. We know as well that we can show that we have learnt from that.
“This drive [to win the competition] is immense. It has never been done at Arsenal and we were very, very, very, close. On the other hand, I have been long enough in the job to know you have to be realistic and know that you have to put hard work in.” This is a championship, and only after you get out of that does the cup [knockout stage] start, so let’s focus on that first. We are ambitious but we are not dreamers.”
Arsenal come into their opening Champions League fixture, in a group that also contains Bayern Munich and Olympiakos, on the back of a comfortable 2-0 win over Stoke City on Saturday. But they also have several fitness concerns. The biggest one is the news that Jack Wilshere will now miss the next three months. Despite initially being expected to miss just a few weeks, it has been determined that he requires surgery on a hairline fracture in his left leg. As well as fellow long-term absentees Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin have remained in London.
Arsenal will still be favored to get an opening three points, though they will have to be wary of a Dinamo Zagreb side that head into the fixture on a 41-match unbeaten streak. As part of that run they became the first team in history to win Croatia’s top division without losing a match. Already Dinamo have come through three rounds of qualifiers just to make it to this stage of the Champions League, however they have never before gotten past the group stage of either the Champions League or Europa League. And coach Zoran Mamić admits that his side will be up against it at the Stadion Maksimir on Wednesday.
“Arsenal are a top-quality team -- better than us -- but our aim is not to sit back and defend,” he said, according to Uefa.com. “We will try to pose them problems. In the run-up to the match I told the players we would have two video analysis sessions: one on Arsenal's strengths, which would be an hour long, and one on their weaknesses. I told them we probably wouldn't have anything to show in the second meeting.”
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 2