View From The North Bank: Arsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 1
This time last November we were on our way home from Portugal having just lost to Braga. That defeat followed a loss in the previous Champions League outing, away to Shakhtar. The end product of those results was to finish second in a group we should’ve walked and to draw Barcelona. We all know what happened after that. One year on and we’ve qualified as group winners with a game to spare. It looks like another lesson has been learned.
No Arsenal fan will need reminding that we’re the only English club already through to the knock out stages. United, and I dare say Chelsea, will probably join us but still it’s nice to gloat for the time being. I like to think Samir Nasri might have taken 90 minutes out from counting his money to watch us qualify last night. Having said that, you couldn’t blame him if he’s a bit tired of watching Champions League Football given the rubbish he had to watch from the Manchester City bench on Tuesday.
Last night’s game started more or less as expected. Dortmund were full of energy, encouraged by a large and vocal travelling contingent, and looked to stop us hitting any kind of rhythm. This set the tone for most of the first half which was played at a frenetic pace. Neither side could satisfactorily control possession and neither managed to create any clear cut chances. Szczesny had to field a couple of long range efforts whilst it wasn’t until late in the half that Arsenal tested the visitors’ goal.
Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey combined well for our most dangerous moments in the first half, the first of which came when Ramsey set Walcott free over the top only for the Dortmund stopper to bravely nick the ball off the winger’s toes. Shortly before the half time whistle Walcott tested Weidenfeller again. A neat dummy from the in-form England man let the ball run to Ramsey who played a first-time pass to exploit Walcott’s run. The cross tempted the keeper but his handling was assured and Van Persie was denied an opener.
Dortmund were similarly industrious at the start of the second half and got in behind within moments of the restart. Thankfully the attempt from Kagawa was tame. In some ways this summed Dortmund up. They are a very modern Football team who press hard and carve out openings playing intricately at pace. To a spectator such as myself who isn’t an expert on German Football it would seem that they are just lacking a first class striker.
Of course, that isn’t a problem we currently have. Robin Van Persie is on the hottest streak of his life. It was interesting that Wenger remarked in last night’s programme notes that he doesn’t remember ever having a striker in this sort of form. Given that Wenger managed Thierry Henry through all of his finest moments, that’s quite an endorsement. That said, as irresistible as Van Persie is at present I doubt anyone could argue that the plaudits for the first goal should be reserved for Alex Song.
The lung busting run of Song, the neat dribble and slalom between two Dortmund defenders and the pin point cross for his captain were sensational. In fairness, he was sensational all night. In a frantic midfield area his tackling and ability to find space were first class. When opponent’s get the ball in the attacking third and you see Song closing in there is an expectancy that he will regain possession and do something productive with it. He is a genuinely top quality defensive midfielder but showed here that he also has the ability to make things happen in an attacking capacity.
Song was our Man of The Match which again draws into question this lazy idea that we are a one man team. As good as RVP is it’s obvious that he wouldn’t be getting all these goals if it wasn’t for the efforts of his team mates.
The second goal was another tap in, not quite as easy as Van Persie’s goals against West Brom or Norwich but pretty straight forward nonetheless. At the risk of labouring the point this is further proof of the productivity of the team as a whole. The goals Van Persie is scoring at the moment aren’t all flashes of solo genius, they are often simple conversions bought about by the hard work of Ramsey, Arteta, Gervinho, Walcott and last night, Vermaelen and Song.
All in all, it was a good night’s work. We’ve been impressive so far in the Champions League and deserved qualification. We may be slightly less exciting but we are certainly looking more mature. We have been composed throughout the qualification process and have got our reward for a set of disciplined displays. Looking over the other groups as they stand we could go on to face Napoli or Milan but the signs are that we shouldn’t be fearful of any potential opponent in the next round.
Before I wrap up I just wanted to save a special mention for the 19th official, or whatever their proper title is. You know who I mean, the bloke who stands behind the goal with a wand in his hand doing nothing but getting in the way. These extra officials have been part of Champions League Football for two years now, and a year before that in the Europa League. In that whole time I’ve never seen them influence a decision. They are utterly pointless. The best and most damning description I can think of is that they aren’t even linesmen.
Anyway, now that’s off my chest I can get back to discussing Champions League qualification with a few work mates. There used to be a few Chelsea supporters around here but there doesn’t seem to be as many today. Funny that.
Keep The Faith.