Arsenal were tested last night by a a very hard working and very decent Borussia Dortmund side. I wouldn’t say it was one we passed with flying colours but the performance and the result showed that this is an Arsenal team that is improving, confident and, most encouragingly, one that can dig out a result when necessary.
The first half is barely worth talking about. It was very scrappy, both teams giving the ball away without building up any kind of momentum and the visitors’ hopes weren’t helped when they lost two of their best players. Bender was pulled off when his face collided with Thomas Vermaelen’s boot (we learned subsequently he’d fractured his jaw) while the loss of Mario Götze hardly made their life any easier.
Dortmund’s pressing and our somewhat erratic passing meant there was little decisiveness from either team. We defended well but created little. When we had the ball in the net Theo Walcott was offside (notable how his finish came much longer after the whistle than Robin van Persie’s at the Camp Nou last season, eh? No booking ensued), and only a fine save from Weidenfeller prevented a Walcott cross reacing van Persie at the back post.
Dortmund began the second half very well, fashioning a scary cross which was deflected and eventually put out for a corner, and a reasonably good chance for Kagawa which Szczesny saved comfortably enough. It’s a measure of our improvement though that this didn’t set us rocking; in fact we went up the other end and scored.
We’d been passing it around well in midfield, looking for an opening, when Alex Song charged down the left hand side, and was instantly filled with the spirit of Bobby Pires. A sidestep here, a quick two-foot shuffle there and he was past the Dortmund defenders. He stood up a cross and who else other than Robin van Persie was there to head it home. It was a good downward header which the keeper got a touch to but couldn’t keep it out. It’s normal to praise van Persie for his finishing but the skill and the assist from Song were first class.
It should have been 2-0 but when Gervinho was put clean through by Ramsey he delayed, allowing the Dortmund defenders to get back and prevent the chance. He really needs to work on his finishing and composure in front of goal. Three good chances against Norwich and one last night were all missed and could have proved costly. On the other hand he provides the team with good balance and does his defensive work well so it’s a tricky one for the manager. If he plays Arshavin, for example, we’re likely to lose some solidity so let’s hope the Ivorian can improve his finishing.
At 1-0 it was always a bit nervy, Dortmund created very little though and we always looked more likely to score another than they did to equalise. Benayoun almost created a chance after good work from Santos down the left, but when the second came it was properly old school Arsenal. Arteta’s corner was flicked on at the near post by Thomas Vermaelen, Robin van Persie was at the far post to stab it home and make the game safe. It seems like an age since we’ve seen a goal like that and it’s a routine that’s so effective when it comes off. Get it wrong, however, and it’s another shit corner that didn’t beat the first man.
In injury time Song and Djourou conspired to give the ball away right by our corner flag which led to a Dortmund goal. I know they were trying to keep possession but sometimes you just need to put your foot through the ball and get rid of it. The defence won’t be happy that their clean sheet was taken away from them but in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that important. There was no time for the Germans to launch another attack.
The aim was to qualify: done. And finishing top of the group: done. Beyond that any kind of criticism would be rather churlish indeed. Afterwards Arsene said:
We were in a difficult group and I am very happy and pleased if you see where we came from. We drew Udinese in the qualifier and you could not bet that we could go like we did. Overall I am very happy because we came out from a very difficult period because we were focused, worked hard and were united together.
Honestly, Dortmund as the 4th team, the so-called minnow in a group, is ridiculous. They’re an excellent outfit and from games like this the team’s confidence and character will grow. We had to work really hard to go through last night and to ensure qualification, in a group-topping manner, was really important. It means we can use the Olympiacos game to rotate and rest some players in the middle of a heavy schedule and it takes a lot of pressure off, obviously.
It was a functional performance, you’d say, but bar one or two moments (which you get in every game really) I thought we were defensively very solid. And you could see the team effort at times. Andre Santos had his best game yet, he looks fitter and sharper, able to get up and down and his composure on the ball is fantastic. Yet when he was caught upfield and Dortmund broke, Theo Walcott hared back to cover for him and get in an important challenge in the left back area. As long as that focus remains and the team continue to work that hard as a unit then we’ll get results.
Attention will now turn to the Premier League again but it’s nice this morning to be the only English club to have qualified for the knock-out stages. You can’t tar all the press with the same brush but listening to the snide, smart-alecery of Jeff Stelling and others it’s amusing to me that their humble pie is being served nice and cold. Enjoy it, fellas and well done the lads for baking it so well.
And that’s about that. Just time to announce the winners of the Fulham tickets with thanks to Thomas Cook Sports. The answer to the question was ‘Steve Sidwell’, the RNG did its thing and the winners are: Richard Chamberlain and Martin Perkins. 2 tickets for that game are on their way to you this morning. Thanks all for entering, bad luck if you didn’t win, but more chances to win things coming very soon.
Right, that’ll do. Back tomorrow with an Arsecast. Until then.