Arsenal 1 Borussia Dortmund 2 – Subdued Arsenal Miss The Point
It was Arsenal’s toughest test of the season to date and it ended in defeat as we were beaten 2-1 by Borussia Dortmund in round three of the Champions League group stages at the Emirates Stadium.
It was by no means a shameful display and we were perhaps unfortunate not to come away with a point, which in the grand scheme of things would’ve been the fairest result. But the final score line comes as a harsh warning of what can happen when you play Europe’s elite, of which Dortmund are most certainly a member, and the visitors are side of whom we will not face any better throughout our domestic campaign this season.
The visitors settled quicker into the game, in which Arsene Wenger made two changes to the side that thrashed Norwich at the weekend; Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey starting ahead of Santi Cazorla and Mathieu Flamini, the latter absent due to concussion. Dortmund enjoyed the majority of the early possession and after a couple of early chances from range, they were 1-0 up in the 16th minute.
Ramsey was a bit too casual on the ball on the edge of the Arsenal area and was dispossessed by Marco Reus. Robert Lewandowski then teed up Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who finished past Wojciech Szczesny and it was much deserved as the visitors had started brightly.
Arsenal then began to grow more into the game as opportunities started to present themselves. After a Bacary Sagna flick on, Olivier Giroud outmuscled a Dortmund defender and attacked the right by line before he was tumbled over, right on the edge of the penalty area. Mesut Ozil’s free kick was headed over by Laurent Koscielny, but it was the first real sign of attacking intent from the Gunners almost a quarter of the way through the game.
Shortly afterwards, Rosicky almost played through Jack Wilshere after Dortmund gave the ball away. And Rosicky then had a shot cleared off the line by Hummel’s after some good work on the left flank by Giroud.
Five minutes before half time we were level. Sagna, wayward for most of the first half, whipped in a delicious ball from the right hand side that bounced in the middle of the area and took a slight deflection off Subotic, putting off Weidenfeller in goal who made a hash out of his collection and Giroud pounced on the ‘keeper’s error to smash the ball into an empty net. It was a much better end to the half and just reward for Giroud who worked harder than anyone in the opening exchange.
Both sides showed early attacking intent in the second period before Dortmund took control of possession, just as they did in the first half. The game was tight and on edge, but chances were few and far between in the early stages of the half but Arsenal were lucky when Großkreutz found himself in space inside the area after some neat build up play, but got caught in two minds between a shot and cross, allowing Szczesny to clean up easily.
Cazorla then came on for Wilshere who picked up a knock to his ankle, and this seemed to spur the home side into action as we put our foot down and took control of the half for a large period of time.
Controversy arose in the 64th minute, as Lewandowski appeared to elbow Koscielny in the face as the Pole attempted to hold up the ball as it came forward. The referee gave a yellow card and looking back at it I’m not sure there was any clear intent, but that the referee brandished the mustard to Lewandowski indicated that he saw some kind of intent there, in which case a red card should’ve been given if we’re following the letter of the law.
It didn’t though and we carried on knocking on the door searching for a second goal. Ramsey had the ball in the net off a corner shortly after the elbow incident, but the referee had already blown the whistle for an apparent push by Koscielny as the ball came in. A soft decision, and there was a vile sense of this will come back to bite us as the game reached the latter stages.
Cazorla was at the centre of everything and struck the bar after Ozil and Ramsey combined on the right and the German cut it back for the little Spaniard. He then had a shot blocked in the area following a Koscielny charge forward and another Ozil cross, and after that nearly caught on to a Giroud flick but the ‘keeper gathered before Cazorla could get to it.
For all of Arsenal’s pressure, we couldn’t make it count and the top teams in this game punish you for that. Dortmund did this in the 82nd minute. A quick break found Großkreutz in space on the right, as Kieran Gibbs stayed tight in field rather than covering his flank. Großkreutz crossed perfectly and Lewandowski was on hand to bury the opportunity first time, enjoying a vast amount of space left unoccupied by Sagna who was trotting infuriatingly slowly back to his position.
It was against the run of play, but a clinically executed counter attack and it was enough to win Dortmund the game, as late introductions of Nicklas Bendtner and Serge Gnabry for Ramsey and Rosicky respectively didn’t have the desired effect and no further chances presented themselves before Jonas Eriksson brought proceedings to an end at a drenched Emirates Stadium.
As I said at the top, a draw probably would’ve been the fairest result as both sides enjoyed long spells of possession although it was Dortmund who made theirs count when it mattered most. All three of the goals were completely avoidable and from an Arsenal point of view we looked somewhat subdued for vast periods of the game as both the team and the crowd failed to get going as we had so excellently in weeks past.
Whether this was down to fatigue or it just being one of those days I don’t know. But Dortmund set themselves up well and caused huge amounts of pressure with their high pressing system that we couldn’t handle, and forced many mistakes; not just the one by Ramsey that led to the visitors opener.
Ramsey and Ozil both had off days, the former maybe a bit too casual on the ball against a side far, far greater than the ones he’s dominated in recent weeks. And the latter just didn’t get going. This happens, I don’t think it’s a disaster for either of them and they’ll no doubt be the first to hold their hands up and admit they were below par last night.
Despite a positive finish to the first half, it was only when Cazorla was introduced in the second that we had that injection of pace and intent moving forward that created space and opportunities as the Dortmund pressing game began to fade. That said, goal scoring opportunities were limited and it was actually a relatively quiet evening for both ‘keepers with just five shots on target all game.
Arteta was our best player on the night, performing superbly in the holding midfield role that won him so many plaudits last season and the absence of Flamini wasn’t as noticeable as many had feared. Giroud and Rosicky worked hard, as did Wilshere before his knock, and Koscielny was the pick of the back four who were busy throughout the encounter.
It leaves Group F of the Champions League really open now, with us, Dortmund and Napoli all on six points half way through the group stages. With away games against the aforementioned still to come, it looks like we’ll have to go to one of them and win to be sure of qualification. Anything less and it could be a nervy finish to this years ‘Group of Death’.
I think we’ll be OK if I’m honest. Wenger’s a good enough manager to learn from the areas in which we struggled tonight and I can fully see us going to Dortmund and grabbing a point, as well as beating Napoli away who we’re a better side than. Beating Marseille at the Emirates will be essential though. But there’s plenty of football still to play, we’ve put a bit of pressure on ourselves now so we’ll get to learn if the players we have are up to handling that pressure on Europe’s biggest stage.
More immediately we now turn our attention to Saturday’s lunchtime kick off where we travel across London to face struggling Crystal Palace at Selhurt Park. You’d expect an instant response and we should have far too much quality for a deflated and lacklustre Palace side that has had a difficult return to life in the Premier League.
Three points and continued domestic momentum are fundamental, as too often in recent years we’ve reacted badly when unbeaten runs have come to an end. The first test of our first real tough period of this campaign ended in defeat, but that’s no reason to assume it can’t end on the contrary.