View From The North Bank: Dortmund 1 Arsenal 1
When the final points tallies are totted up in December we’ll no doubt be grateful for a point in what was, on paper at least, our toughest away game. I’ll stick my neck out here and say that I’ll be amazed if either Olympiakos or Marseille manage a point or better in Germany.
The key to qualification is home form so this result gives us a solid platform from which to start. It’s perhaps a bit of a cliché but if you’d offered us a point before the game most of us would have taken it. German Champions rarely tend to be a walkover so playing a away against a solid unit who attack with pace is no walk in the park.
The early pattern of the game wasn’t unexpected as Dortmund looked to apply pressure early on. There were times when our defence seemed to be playing too high a line which offered Kagawa a route in behind on more than one occasion. Szczesny was quick off his line to apply pressure but Koscielny was caught ball watching more than once to play Dortmund onside. Another occasion saw Sagna clear off the line after Mertesacker’s solid tackle had only cleared as far as the second wave of Dortmund attackers.
A point to note: Dortmund are one of the most exciting, attacking teams in europe and will upset big teams in the next few years without a doubt.
We owe our first half lead to Robin van Persie who gave Weidenfeller the eyes and emphatically placed the ball to the keepers left, having won the ball for Walcott to slip in a perfectly weighted through-ball for the Arsenal skipper to finish.
It may have been against the run of play but that’s what you can happen when you have a player of RVP’s quality leading the line. The Dutchman’s outstanding scoring record at the end of last season was over shadowed by the collapse of the rest of the side and there is always a nagging concern about his fitness. Not that I want to tempt fate but our new skipper has been injury-free since Christmas and should now be regarded as one of Europe’s elite strikers.
The second period was largely a backs-to-the-wall job. We haven’t been used to seeing Arsenal play this way for some and it might take a bit of getting used to. We’re accustomed to Arsenal dominating possession and imposing themselves on almost any opponent. Here, we seemed to concede possession and protect the 0-1 score-line. It’s a different tactic, distinct from simply being over-run, and in light of our recent history it was probably a sensible approach and may well have been emphasised by Pat Rice in the absence of Wenger.
We have been criticised for years for not knowing when to shut up shop so it’s perhaps a sign of a more mature Arsenal that we didn’t throw caution to the wind in search of a second goal.
In truth, the approach was justified as Dortmund were limited to few real chances. Szczesny was his usual dominant self while Mertesacker and Koscielny were generally composed, although the German was loose in possession, whilst Koscielny had an admirable second half after a shaky first. In front of them Arteta and Benayoun didn’t have the freedom to create a great deal – Benayoun was also guilty of losing possession, as was Gervinho – but both put in a shift and offered a good outlet, calming the pace when required.
The two newcomers were supported by Alex Song who demonstrated how important he is to this side. His chasing and tackling stopped Dortmund establishing a rhythm and set the tone for a battling performance. Many Gooners aren’t convinced by Song, but Arsenal have certainly missed him during the last three Premier League games.
A hard won victory escaped us when Dortmund sub Perisic crashed home a volley in the 88th minute. A goal is a goal but we do seem to suffer disproportionately from once in a lifetime wonder goals. Danny Rose, Michael Essien, Chiek Tiote, Alex and now Perisic populate a list of players who will struggle to emulate strikes of such quality again in their career.
In a sense, it’s a relief that it wasn’t a scrappy goal that would have had us pulling our hair out. Mertesacker rose to repel the set piece, our major stumbling block last term. The fact that it was driven back with interest was out of our control.
In all, we should be proud of a diligent performance which proved that we can, contrary to popular belief, actually defend. A point in Dortmund represents a good start, especially with Le Boss being treated like a schoolboy, escorted to and from his seat way up in the stands – and should give players and fans alike some added belief.
These are still the early days of this new Arsenal but the signs are that we’re growing into a side that may just posses some of the character and determination that we’ve lacked in previous years.
Our next test is away to Blackburn. In general it’s a fixture that is written up as one we struggle in. Despite our travails in the Allardyce era our recent record is pretty good. It represents another chance to get a positive result and for the team to bond further. Games like last night’s, and scraps in Blackburn, are where team spirit is forged.
What is needed now is to show improvement game-by-game so three points from the North West would go some way to convincing everyone that we are back on the road to recovery.
Keep the Faith.