Thursday, October 24, 2013

Arsenal 1 Dortmund 2 (Champions League Group Stage Matchday 3)

The critics said that this would be the first stern test for Arsenal. We had already heard those words before we faced Napoli on the Matchday 2. After the Napoli game, we thought Arsenal's totally different, but equally impressive performances on either side of half time had effectively silenced them. Now those critics are triumphant after just one loss in 13 games against the last season's Champions League runners-up.

Arsene Wenger was unusually critical about his side's performance after the match, which probably reflected his massive disappointment on his 64th birthday. On the strength of the home game and the current form, we were expecting three points from this game, which would have then required only a draw to guarantee our place in the knock-out stage. Although Wenger seemingly didn't give any credit to his side's display, a loss was too harsh a result for the home team. In fact, they deserved at least a point.

Lewandowski, who went on to score the winner, could have been set off if Koscielny had fallen down to the ground and rolled about at the time. Rosicky's shot was cleared off the line in the first half. Ramsey's goal was mysteriously disallowed. One can only guess it was because the whistle was blown a second earlier when the referee adjudged that Koscielny pushed a Dortmund player in the set-piece melee. Santi's curling effort was denied by the woodwork. If we hadn't conceded the second goal at the very time we did, an energetic Dortmund side could have started showing signs of fatigue (because that's how we have won games in the past).

We don't need to cite these potentially game-changing incidents to highlight how delicately balanced the game was. The stats show that the two sides were level in all aspects. Arsenal registered 9 shots, of which 2 were on target, with one hitting the bar and two blocked. On the other hand, Dortmund had 8 shots in total with 3 on target. Other stats indicate that Arsenal were, in fact, a slightly better side, including a 58% possession, a 83% passing success rate against Dortmund's 79%, and 65% aerial duels won vs Dortmund's 35%. In light of these figures, ex-Tottenham Glen Hoddle's remark, "Dortmund were the better side", appears a little feeble.

Wenger lamented naivety and lack of maturity, stating that Arsenal forgot that "when you cannot win the game, you don't lose it". It is disappointing to see some of the positive signs this team started to show disappear in this game. When they struggled to beat an organised and resilient West Brom side, they tried not to lose the game after coming from behind to equalise. Against Swansea, we didn't create many chances, but when we went forward, we scored two goals in a short space of time to win the game. Three days ago, we scored the crucial second goal when Norwich was in the ascendancy. This season, up till this game, we had had no error directly leading to a goal, a major cause behind so many points dropped last season.

We missed Mathieu Flamini in the game. Arteta played well, but the devoted defensive midfielder would have made it sure that we were well covered against any quick counter-attack. Also, the 29-year-old ex-AC Milan player would have reminded his team-mate that not losing this game was as important as winning it. His steel and maturity were sorely missed.

Despite the disappointing result, there are many positives to take from this game. Santi is back. After returning from injury in the last game, the Spaniard started from the bench. When he came on the pitch for Wilshere, he turned the game around. With Özil struggling to find space, doubled or sometimes tripled-up by Dortmund players, Santi's creativity was crucial for us.

It was encouraging to see Arsenal get back into the game and score an equaliser before half-time, after a slow start to the game and conceding the first goal in the 16th minute.

In contrast to Wenger's accusation that the team pushed too hard, some journalists praise Arsenal's bravery. They took the game to Dortmund despite the German side's every effort to stop their opponents playing their football and never gave up looking for an illusive winner.

In a way, we are glad that the team made these mistakes at the group stages and early in the season. All teams lose at some point in the season (unless you are the Invincibles). These are a group of ever-improving players, so hopefully, the boys will learn the lessons and they can only get better.

Two mistakes cost us dearly, but there was very little in it between the two side. Dortmund are underrated because of their slow start to their Champions League campaign after their poor display against Napoli on Matchday 1. However, this game showed how good they are, after all we are in the game's elite competition.

Coupled with Napoli's 2-1 defeat of Marseille in France on the same night, the result opened up the qualifying race in the Group F among the three teams. Now Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli all sit top of the group with 6 points. It looks a lot tougher now to qualify from this group than three weeks ago, but we think it can be done. Last season we still qualified after we had lost 2-0 at home against Schalke on Matchday 3. Also, it is not impossible to beat a German team in Germany as our victory over Bayern Munich proved. Furthermore, we have the upper hand over Napoli in case the two teams finish on the same point, as the head-to-head results prevail over the goal difference. Having already beaten Napoli once, a draw in Naples will guarantee a place in the knock-out stages if we are on the same points as Napoli going into Matchday 6. That said, it is only half way through the group stage and there are still nine points to play for, it is too early to calculate permutations yet.

Players rating

Szczesny: 6
With Dortmund registering only three shots on target, he had little to do. Couldn't do much about the two goals.

Sagna: 6
He was caught out of position on Dortmund's counter-attack and slow to get back. We understand that in the absence of wide players such as Theo, the Ox, and Poldi, Sagna and Gibbs have a massive task of going forward to help add width to the offence, but the veteran Sagna should be able to cope with that.

Mertesacker: 7

Combined with Koscielny, kept Lewandowski quiet at most of time.

Koscielny: 7

Made 5 interceptions and 6 clearances.

Gibbs: 7

Made a good last-ditch tackle as well as 7 interceptions and 5 clearances.

Arteta: 7
Made 11 tackles and 2 interceptions. 

Ramsey: 6

Entirely guilty for Dortmund's first goal. He was too confident when he tried to dribble through Dortmund players on the edge of the Arsenal box instead of simply clearing the line and subsequently he was robbed of the ball by Reus. The in-form Welsh midfielder was not as sharp as usual. Replaced in the 87th minute.

Özil: 7
Difficult game as he was shackled by two or three Dortmund players throughout the game, but showed a glimpse of quality here and there.

Rosicky: 7

His effort beat the keeper only to be cleared off the line by Hummels.  

Wilshere: 6
Struggled to get behind the Dortmund defence. He was another player who was not as sharp as in the last game. An ankle injury saw his game curtailed in the 59th minute. With hind sight, Cazorla should have replaced him earlier.

Giroud: 7
Scored a goal. One of the differences this season is that he is more aggressive in the box. When you attack the ball, you have a half-chance to score as the keeper or defenders may make mistakes. Sagna's cross was hardly a pin-point delivery, but because Giroud attacked the ball, Dortmund centre-back and keeper made a mix-up, which led to the goal.



Cazorla: 7
Replaced injured Jack Wilshere in the 59th minute. Made an immediate impact and his powerful shot hit the crossbar. 

Bendtner: 5

87th-minute substitute for Ramsey. Only made 1 touch.

Gnabry: 5
90th-minute substitute for Rosicky. Only made 3 touches around the Arsenal box.

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