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.