Though the Premier League table still shows them a dozen points behind leaders Manchester City, there’s no doubt that there aren’t many sides out there who can match Arsenal on form at the moment. But to continue their hot streak and remain on course to top their Champions League group, the Gunners will have to dispatch a side that is every bit as hot as they are, as Borussia Dortmund visit the Emirates on Wednesday night in a crucial clash for both sides.
Since a 2-1 defeat at Tottenham early last month, the Gunners haven’t lost in their last eight matches in all competitions, winning seven and drawing against Marseille in the last round of Champions League fixtures. Arsenal stats indicate a number of reasons as to why the side is in such good form, but one major reason is the scintillating form of Robin van Persie, who took his tally to an amazing 10 goals in five Premier League games – all Arsenal wins – with a match-winning brace in Saturday’s 2-1 win at Norwich City.
That double marked the fifth time already this season that Van Persie has scored multiple goals, which many strikers would take over the course of an entire season. To put it in an even better light, there are 11 Premier League teams that have scored multiple goals fewer times than he has.
However, his impact hasn’t been felt as much in Europe, where he’s scored only once in four group stage matches. That lone goal came in September’s 1-1 draw in Dortmund, and Wednesday would be a fine, fine time to add to that total.
Arsenal head into matchday five still in pole position in Group E, with eight points from four matches, one more than second-placed Marseille, four more than Dortmund, and five ahead of bottom side Olympiakos. Last month’s stalemate against Marseille represents a real missed opportunity to have all but sewn up top spot, but a win on Wednesday would put the Gunners within touching distance of it, even if Marseille win at home against Olympiakos as well. While Arsenal’s final match isn’t easy, it’s a favorable one, as they visit Olympiakos, but Marseille’s challenger is much, much tougher, as they have to go to Dortmund.
However, getting the three points on Wednesday won’t come easy, as the reigning Bundesliga champions are playing like champions after an inconsistent start.
Dortmund started their season with two wins, a draw, and three defeats in their first six Bundesliga matches, but they’ve gone an unbeaten 6-1-0 in their last seven. On Saturday, they went to the Allianz Arena and defeated league leaders Bayern Munich 1-0, trimming the deficit at the top to two points and showing that the title race is far from a one-horse race as it might have once appeared.
After the weekend win in Munich, it’s safe to say Jurgen Klopp’s side won’t be short on confidence and belief when they come to the Emirates. Dortmund need to win to keep their slim round of 16 hopes alive heading into next month’s meeting with Marseille, and even if they ultimately fall short in that quest, even a draw on Wednesday will go a long way in helping them lock down third and a place in the Europa League’s round of 32, so Arsenal must expect their best and give theirs in return.
Teenage sensation Mario Gotze, who scored the winner against Bayern, is Dortmund’s headliner, and for good reason, as shown by his links with many top European sides, including Arsenal. But Arsenal must also key on Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, who has eight league goals and 12 goals in all competitions this season.
Early on, Dortmund weren’t really firing on any cylinders consistently, struggling offensively one match, struggling defensively another. But in their unbeaten league run, they’ve outscored opponents 20-3, and the only time since September that they’ve allowed multiple goals was in a 3-1 defeat at Olympiakos, which is their only defeat in their last 10 matches in all competitions.
So, along with being able to breach an improved Dortmund back line, Arsenal must get another rock-solid performance from their own defense, which is faring pretty well right now.
Arsenal have allowed multiple goals only once in their current eight-match unbeaten run, and on that occasion, last month’s stunning 5-3 win at Chelsea, it didn’t come back to bite them.
It must be noted though, that while the Gunners have had their share of defensive issues away from home, they’ve been a tough nut to crack at the Emirates. Arsenal have allowed multiple goals at home only once in all competitions this season, in August’s 2-0 defeat to Liverpool, and since that match, they’ve conceded only five goals in nine home matches in all competitions.
Still, whether or not it should, a lot could depend on what we see from RVP. Even though both sides will come forward with regularity, two solid defensive performances could see the outcome come down to a lone goal, and he’s the best bet on both sides to make that happen. Van Persie has scored 36 goals in 41 appearances for Arsenal in the calendar year, and those numbers aren’t anything to scoff at unless you’re, say, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
It remains to be seen where RVP’s future lies, but in the present, he’s taking this team on his back. If he does that again on Wednesday night, it’s highly likely that the Gunners will continue their fine run of form and book yet another place in the round of 16.
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