I said yesterday I’d be happy with a draw and even last night I wasn’t too upset at the late equaliser, even if the timing of it was a bit cruel.
Arsenal were under the cosh for most of the second half, Dortmund piled on attack after attack after attack, but for the most part we defended very well, very bravely and with real commitment. It wasn’t exactly enjoyable but I thought we were coping quite well. It looked as if it would take something special to beat us. And so it proved.
A free kick from about 35 yards out was clipped into the box, Gibbs got a good header on it, but when it fell to Perisic he hit it first time, into the top corner, and there wasn’t a thing Wojciech Szczesny could do but watch it go in. It was a brilliant goal, and probably one that they deserved, but after such a staunch rearguard action it must have felt like a right kick in the nuts for the Arsenal players.
To be fair to Dortmund they started the game very brightly too, creating two great opportunities, both of which were blazed over the bar. Then Sagna got back to block a goal-bound shot after Kagawa had rounded Szczesny. It was a little bit worrying in the first 10-15 minutes but then, perhaps, we then saw the benefit of the injection of experience into this Arsenal side. We didn’t panic, we simply began to keep the ball, calming things down, slowing down the game and working our way back into it. We didn’t fashion too many chances, a van Persie shot from a Benayoun ball over the top the only one I can really think of, but we took control and prevented their pressure from building too much.
Robin van Persie began and ended the goal, working hard to pick up on a stray Dortmund pass and toe poke it to an Arsenal shirt. The otherwise anonymous Walcott took it on, stepped inside a man and played a lovely ball in behind the Dortmund defence which van Persie ran onto and finished beautifully with his right foot. On Sky they talked about it being ‘the most unlikely of leads’, which was a bit insulting really. It was Dortmund v Arsenal, not Cripply United v Brazil. Robin’s finish was first class and in a game when you’re not likely to make too many chances it’s so important you take the ones that come your way.
The second half was a bit different, however, as the home side pressed and pressed for a goal, but for all the pressure the only clear chance I can remember is one falling to Subotic from a corner. He mis-kicked his shot from about 6 yards out and Szczesny got hold of it.
There was some brave defending by the Arsenal team. Sagna was his usual consistent self; Mertesacker calm and assured; Koscielny had some iffy moments in the first half (mostly involving his distribution) but he epitomised everything that’s good about a centre-half last night. He was everywhere, intercepting in midfield, one minute, blocking shots and getting vital touches in and around the box the next and almost always winning the headers. One moment summed him up, blocking a shot on the slide from a Dortmund player then getting up quickly enough to head it away as it came down.
In midfield Arteta got stuck in and Alex Song made countless tackles, most of them clean as a whistle, and most of them in dangerous areas too. I know people will talk about how we, eventually, could barely get out of our own half, but football is like that sometimes, and while flowing, attacking football is a great thing, having to defend the way we did last night is as much a part of the game as anything else. Doing it the way we did was really encouraging. If you can laud a brilliant goal then you can do exactly the same for a last ditch tackle.
I’d certainly prefer us to have been a bit more involved from an attacking point of view, but everyone’s played in a game like that, where you just can’t find a way out and the defender in me kind of loves that. Dortmund are a quality side, we’re still trying to find a bit of form and confidence, and to hold them out for as long as we did under that pressure, especially without offering up great chances, deserves some credit.
There’s no doubt they deserved something from the game, cruel as it might have been to the players who defended so well, but it might even have been more so. Moments after the goal Wojciech Szczesny showed just how important he’s becoming to this Arsenal team with a brilliant, brave save at the feet of a Dortmund attacker who just had the keeper to beat. That would have been a bit too cruel and thankfully we hung on for a very welcome point.
Afterwards boss for the night, Pat Rice praised our defensive performance, saying:
Even when they were a goal down they kept coming and coming and coming. It’s a high quality skill to be able to hold them off, thankfully all of our boys did that.
And suggested the new boys have sparked a bit of life back into things:
There’s a buzz in the dressing-room, because there was uncertainty before hand. People are now looking forward to playing and the players who have come in, contrary to what other people think, are really good players.
Overall, I thought a draw more than fair, and considering that’s the toughest away game we’ll face in the group stage it’s nice to get it out of the way early and with some success. When you recall our last away performance then it was absolutely crucial we got something from last night’s game. It was great to see an Arsenal team with much more fight about them, with players willing to stick their heads where it might hurt, players tracking back, working hard and really giving everything. If we can keep up that kind of effort in all the games it’ll serve us well.
It was interesting as well to hear SZCZ talk after the game about Pat Rice and the job he did. An easy target for people of late, perhaps Szczesny’s words about how he motivated the team (“He shouts a lot!”) in the absence of the manager will quiet some of that down. You don’t spend as long as he has in the game, especially with a club you love the way he loves Arsenal, by sitting on your hands and offering nothing.
Anyway, a decent start to our European campaign and another performance that will add some belief and confidence to the squad. A win and a clean sheet would have been nicer but there were many positives to be taken from last night. Let’s do that and start looking forward to the game against Blackburn on Saturday, another tough away test.