Arsenal battle to Dortmund draw

Robin van Persie celebrates the goal that game Arsenal the lead in Germany

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction Pat’s reaction

I could have chosen a picture of Arsenal defenders, hands on heads, devastated at conceding a late equaliser.  I haven’t: I’ve chosen a moment of celebration after the goal that gave us a valuable lead.  This draw is a highly commendable result, and I won’t allow the cruelty of the goal to colour that.

There isn’t a sane Gooner out there who wouldn’t have taken a point yesterday.  With Ramsey and Rosicky injured, our team looked even more unfamiliar than against Swansea, as Yossi Benayoun made a first start in a central midfield role.

Our fears about Dortmund’s strength were confirmed minutes in to the game: they’re a fantastic side.  Like Barcelona, they understand the importance of winning the ball back early and high up the pitch.  Arsenal couldn’t get out – Dortmund closed down so effectively that the back four struggled to find an out ball.  Instead, we were faced with wave after wave of German attack, with Kagawa and Goetze predictably at the heart of it.  The closest they came was when Lewandowski rounded his countryman Szczesny, only to see his effort cleared off the line by Bacary Sagna.

There were glimpses at the other end, usually provided by the sprightly Gervinho.  However, a bit of ring-rust prevented him from finishing a presentable opportunity before Hummel could toe-poke the ball away.

When we did score, at the end of the first-half, it was hugely against the run of play.  An isolated Robin van Persie took a leaf out of Dortmund’s book, chasing down a loose Sebastien Kehl pass to win the ball with a sliding tackle, before jumping up and racing on to an excellent pass from Theo Walcott to fire right-footed past the keeper.  It was his 15th goal in 16 away games.

From that point on, Arsenal put together an admirable rearguard action.  At the heart of it was Alex Song, who won the ball countless times on the edge of our own box, cleanly and efficiently.  It was a very mature display from the Cameroon midfielder.  Behind him Koscielny and Mertesacker formed an effective partnership: the former all reactive blocks and clearances, the latter composed and organisational.  Outside them, Bacary Sagna was his usual reliable self, and Wojciech Szczesny continued his development in to one of the continent’s finest goalkeepers.

As we entered the final five minutes, it looked as if this uncharacteristic Arsenal display could yield all three points.  Frimpong, Chamakh and debutant Santos were brought on to add fresh legs and lend their hands to an increasingly pressurised pump.  We were denied, however, by what Paul Merson most probably called ‘a worldy’.  I don’t know, I usually turn over when he’s on.  What I can say with absolute assurance was that this was a once-in-a-lifetime strike from substitute Ivan Perisic, catching a cleared corner so sweetly on the volley that the ball simply flew in to the top corner.

Szczesny was forced in to one more save from Lewandowski to preserve a point, and then came the whistle.  Arsenal heads didn’t drop – they knew they had got themselves a fair result that could be vital in the race to qualify.

Browsing Arsenal forums after the game, I was staggered by the sense of disappointment.  A lot of our supporters seem to show very little respect for Dortmund.  Let’s not forget: these are the Champions of the Bundesliga.  Although they came out of Pot 4, they’re quite possibly the favourites for the group.  To expect us to waltz in to their intimidating arena and control the game is pure ignorance.

To be honest, I liked the way we played.  What we lacked in creativity, we more than made up for in commitment.  The XI out there were something of a rag-tag bunch: players from some way down Arsene’s ‘wanted’ list, cast-offs from other clubs, youngsters, and a few familiar faces – but they had one thing in common: a desire to play for Arsenal football club.  And, for me, that shone through.

Having a few guys like Arteta and Benayoun, who have had the experience of playing for teams further down the football pecking order, means they know just what it means to play for a club the size of Arsenal.  One occasionally senses that the Denilsons, Clichys and Bendtners of the world arrived so young that they didn’t appreciate what it meant to pull on that shirt.  They didn’t have to work and wait for it.  These players – these men – have.  And they won’t let it go without a fight.

Little by little, positive momentum is accumulating.  Next up, Blackburn.  How I’d love for Arsenal to be a significant nail in the coffin of Steve Kean’s reign.

Dortmund await new-look Arsenal

If Swansea was the start of a new era, then (with due respect to the Welsh side) this is our first test.  Victory on Saturday was essential, but also expected.  The outcome of tonight’s game is much harder to call.

Dortmund are the Champions of Germany, and a fine footballing side.  Arsene paid them the compliment of saying they have a “similar style” to his own team, and the talents of Kagawa, Goetze and Lewandowski make them a very real attacking threat.  They can defend too – Neven Subotic, a one-time Arsenal target, is the key figure in a back-line that conceded a meagre 22 league goals last season.

Dortmund’s impressive coach Jurgen Klopp is excited about a clash between two attacking teams:

“I think it is good for us that Arsenal play attacking football. The problem is that they have so much quality that we have to be very careful. But we are prepared. We are capable of defending against this kind of team and have to work to make space and impose our own game.”

He even sounds rather like our own manager there.  Rather than being a reactive tactician, he imposes a philosophy on to his team and asks them to abide by it in every game – no matter who the opposition.

It promises to be an exciting encounter, and a betting man would predict goals – at least at one end.  Arsenal haven’t kept a clean-sheet away from home in the Champions League since the victory over AC Milan in the San Siro.  That was in 2008, three years and 16 games ago.

Those games, of course, were without Per Mertesacker.  The giant centre-half returns to his native Germany today to face former domestic rivals, and will hopefully be able to pass on his knowledge of our opposition to messrs Szczesny, Koscielny, Sagna and Gibbs.

In midfield we’re without the injured Rosicky and Ramsey, so Alex Song and Emmanuel Frimpong will most likely be charged with shacking Goetze and Kagawa, with Mikel Arteta pulling the strings ahead of them.  After an eight year absence the Spaniard returns to the Champions League, and the competition and occasion ought to suit his fluid passing game.

Gervinho returns to flank skipper Van Persie, with one of Theo Walcott or Andrey Arshavin on the other side.  Ordinarily you’d expect Walcott to start, but I wonder if Arshavin’s early withdrawal on Saturday was partly with tonight in mind.

We go in to the game as something of an unknown quantity.  As well as the clutch of new signings, the likes of Gibbs and Frimpong barely figured last season.  Even Szczesny emerged quite late in the campaign.  Arsene says:

“For us, it’s a new start because we are a new squad. What is at stake during the Group Stages is for us to show that we can go through.”

Victory tonight would be a huge step in that direction.

In other news, Henri Lansbury has extended his existing Arsenal deal.  It’s great news, as he has started the season in fine form, scoring goals for both the England U-21s and loan club West Ham.  An impressive campaign in the Championship could see him finally afforded the chance in the first-team I believe he richly deserves.  Perhaps, after all, Arsene does still see him as an Arsenal player of the future.

Back to the present.  Dortmund fans made the following video to ‘welcome’ Arsenal fans to the intimidating Westfalenstadion.

So that, it seems, is what Dortmund are about.

It’s time for this new-look Arsenal to show them, and indeed us, just what they’re about.

Come On You Gunners.