The best team won. Simple as that.
It was a tough game. Dortmund are a top class side. Klopp set his team up to defend and play on the break. It worked for large parts of the game as the visitors limited Arsenal to just 3 shots on target. But such was the Gunners’ quality in the final third that two of those went in. Dortmund had more shots and a greater number on target but most of those, except the goal, were hopeful strikes from distance.
There weren’t many thrilling moments in the first half. Dortmund stayed deeper and defended in the area ten yards outside their box and up to the centre line. Arsenal had 61 percent possession at the end of the half but very little to show for it. Arsenal’s passing was slower and it allowed Dortmund to retain their shape. It also allowed the visiting defenders to intercept many passes played to the feet of an Arsenal attacker.
The Gunners also struggled a bit under pressure and lost the ball more frequently than is usual. It provided the Black Yellows some counter-attacking opportunities but they didn’t have enough quality in the attacking areas to trouble the Arsenal defence that was ably and consistently supported by Arteta and Song.
The lack of technical quality on the wings also made it difficult to bring the ball out as fewer passing options were available. Gervinho and Walcott were looking to make runs in behind but weren’t always available to receive, hold, and move the ball to stretch the opponents. This increased the work load of the midfield and full-backs who found an appreciable balance between defending and possession play.
Arsenal too were understandably cautious in their approach and the full-backs didn’t charge forward as often as they do in League games. Ultimately, most of Arsenal possession was at the back and in central areas. Dortmund must have been happy with their effort in the first-half, especially as they lost two players to injuries. Götze, in particular, was a big loss. It took away their biggest creative weapon.
Wenger must have asked his team to up the tempo as the speed of the ball from the passes seemed higher soon after the restart. But it was Dortmund who got in behind twice after delightful one touch passing. Szczesny made a save and the other move resulted in a corner that was well defended.
The big moment came in the 49th minute when Arsenal broke forward into space. It looked like impetus was lost when Ramsey held on to the ball and turned towards his own goal. His only passing option was back towards Song. The Cameroonian took it to the flank and was surrounded by three opponents with no support from his teammates. Song took on the challenge and beat the Dortmund players with a combination of tenacity and nifty footwork. His cross was perfectly measured and Van Persie’s header was as good as a striker can produce.
After the goal Dortmund pushed forward but the Gunners never lost their composure. Van Persie dropped deeper and Gervinho started playing as the striker with the hope of getting in behind the high line that the visitors now held.
Dortmund were now seeing more of the ball in the Arsenal half but the Gunners were chasing everything down and always looked a threat on the break.
On the hour mark Ramsey put Gervinho clean through but the winger’s first touch was poor and he was too indecisive thus allowing the defenders to come back and clear. It capped off another frustrating night for the Ivorian.
Arsenal got the second goal cushion after an Arteta free-kick was deflected back for a corner. The Spaniards delivery found the Belgian at the near post and his flick-on fell to a sharp Dutchman who showed good technique to guide the bouncing ball home.
To their credit Dortmund kept pushing forward but Arsenal always had things in control in front of the goal. The night didn’t end on a perfect note for the Gunners though, as a moment of indecision from Song and a daft touch from Djourou, wide on the right led, to a goal moments before the full time whistle. Song should have cleared the ball instead of running with it towards the Swiss defender who was boxed in. Djourou for his part should have shown greater determination to win the ball instead of poking it away from himself and his midfielder.
Such games show that Arsenal are superior to many of the highly rated continental teams that have won titles over the last few years but the somewhat predicable and hugely disappointing mistake at the end also suggests there is a long way to go before the Gunners can become the very best.
Qualification to the knock-out phase and top spot in the group have been secured. That is more than the other three English sides can say.
Szczesny: Made a few saves but most were hit straight at him. Showed good composure whenever the ball was played to him.
Koscielny: Very strong defensive effort. Didn’t go forward as often as Sagna or Jenkinson might have, and wasn’t as effective when he did venture forward, but played a part in rotating the ball. There were two or three occasions when he chased back with speed and prevented a dangerous situation from turning into an attack.
Mertesacker: Won a number of headers, was usually very well positioned, could have avoided a couple of fouls. Was confident on the ball and tried playing a number of forward passes down the middle.
Vermaelen: Another superbly dominant display from the Belgian in the air and on the ground. Had the measure of Lewandowski for most of the game. Picked up an assist from the Corner.
Santos: Tackling was very good but was vulnerable to runs in behind. Looked confident on the ball and wasn’t afraid of inviting a challenge.
All the defenders read the game very well. The central defenders pragmatically stayed deeper than usual for home games. Dortmund were able to play a few one-twos around the defenders but, along with the midfield, they covered for each other effectively.
Song: Struggled to bring the ball out in the first half against incessant pressing. Never gave up and his tenacity was invaluable to the defence. It also led to a memorable individual assist and a powerful, no-nonsense second half. Could have done better in the dying moments but dwelling on that would be harsh on his effort. MotM in my book.
Ramsey: Played a number of early balls in behind. Wasn’t always successful but the signs are encouraging. Work rate was again exemplary. He too struggled in the first half but looked a lot more composed after the goal. Wasn’t afraid of holding the ball under pressure and was looking to make things happen.
Arteta: Before the season is over we might see a new term ‘The Arteta Role’ enter the football lexicon. Always there to support the defence, always there to receive a pass, confident on the ball and rarely loses it, makes it look effortless and inconspicuous.
I thought the midfield wasn’t able to beat the pressure in the first half. Part of that was down to the speed of the passing but the team also lacked a player who could receive the ball under pressure and turn his man. But they never switched off and covered the pitch tirelessly. Looked a lot stronger once the game opened up and the score line could have been more impressive if Gervinho didn’t make as many mistakes.
Walcott: Had a number of half-moments sort of like that cross at the end of the first half. It was there but not quite. But he was always a threat and ensured Dortmund had two players ready to double up on him, which took away from their attacking threat. Also tracked back when needed.
RvP: Both goals were very well taken. The first would be obvious to most but the technique on the second one should not be undervalued. Dropped back to support the midfield after the goal was scored and linked play with the runner. Some of his passes were incisive. Offers so much more than just goals.
Gervinho: Probably the only player who had more negatives than positives. Once again his technique let him down at crucial moments. But his pace and intelligent running were always a threat. Needs to learn from Theo and take shots/crosses early and be more decisive (even if some of the decisions are not the right ones).
I thought the wide players weren’t offering enough in the first half as Dortmund cut out the passing angles efficiently. One of them should have come inside more often to help the midfield. They should also have made more of the space afforded to them in the second half. Van Persie’s quality was from a different planet and was the biggest difference between the teams.
Subs: Benayoun showed some neat touches. Djourou didn’t have much to do but made a mistake right at the end. It was nice to see Diaby on the pitch.
Wenger: With this first team he has found the right formula with a balance between defence and attack. Still would like to see the manager getting more from the pace he has at his disposal.
Ref: Just wanted to mention the ridiculous yellow cards given to Theo and Ramsey. Dortmund committed a number of fouls to break up play but weren’t punished. That is acceptable but giving cards for technicalities is daft when the game is otherwise being played in the right spirit. And the one for Ramsey was a joke any which way you look at it. I have seen this with other officials as well. They are trigger happy over inane issues and it can ruin a game like we saw at Barcelona. More common sense is needed over such issues rather than the blatant kicking, diving, playacting, and other disgraceful acts we see on the pitch.
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