Dinamo Zagreb made a dream start to their Champions League campaign after a goal in each half gave them a 2-1 home win over 10-man Arsenal in their Group F match on Wednesday.
An Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain own goal followed by a Junior Fernandes header put Dinamo in the driving seat before Theo Walcott pulled one back for the Premier League side, who had striker Olivier Giroud sent off in the first half.
Having failed to advance past the group stage of Europe’s elite club competition in their previous four attempts, Dinamo produced a morale-boosting performance in the Maksimir stadium.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger blamed the defeat on bad luck although he might also question his side’s poor defending at set-pieces and a lack of creativity in midfield.
“It is not the way we wanted to begin the competition but I think we were a bit unlucky as well today,” Wenger told BT Sport.
“At 2-0 down…we gave it our all against a team that defends in their own half but unfortunately we couldn’t get back.”
Organised defending aided by a packed midfield frustrated a disjointed Arsenal and the home side always looked dangerous on the break, with Algeria striker El Hilal Arabi Soudani at the heart of all their moves.
Arsenal held the upper hand in the opening 20 minutes as Giroud missed two good chances, hitting the post with a scuffed effort after Dinamo’s Portuguese keeper Eduardo had kept out the Frenchman’s header with an acrobatic save.
The Croatian champions took the lead against the run of play with Chamberlain unable to get out of the way of a rebound after Arsenal keeper David Ospina blocked a close-range shot by left back Josip Pivaric.
Worse followed for the visitors when Giroud was shown a second yellow card for a reckless challenge after he was earlier booked for dissent.
Sensing blood, a fired-up Dinamo came storming out after the interval and livewire Soudani, a handful all night for his markers, hit the post with a glancing header barely a minute into the second half.
The home fans were in raptures in the 58th minute when Chilean Fernandes rose at the near post to head home an inviting Paulo Machado corner past a static Arsenal defence.
Wenger then replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain with Walcott and the winger made a quick impact, racing clear of two markers before he beat the advancing Eduardo with a sublime finish in the 79th minute.
But Arsenal could not force a late equaliser and Dinamo’s coach Zoran Mamic was elated with the result.
“I hoped secretly we could pull off a miracle because we were really focused on this one,” he told a news conference.
“A debacle was never on my mind because I knew we could stay on the same par physically with a team uncomfortable against rivals who can keep possession.”