Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Arsenal Beaten But Not Outclassed

Arsenal faced their biggest test so far this season at home to Borussia Dortmund last night and despite losing they certainly weren't outclassed. It was a game which could have gone either way, but went the way of the German team after a ruthless counter attack late on. It puts Arsenal in a very difficult position in their Champions League group, but it's far from all over.

The team showed a couple of changes from the weekend with Aaron Ramsey coming in for the injured Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky replacing Santi Cazorla. It was a strong looking Arsenal team but Dortmund were certainly going to be no pushover. Rosicky and Jack Wilshere took up the wide attacking positions for Arsenal but neither of them are ideally suited to those roles. The sooner the better for the team that Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski return to play in those positions.

Dortmund started on the front foot and kept possession very well while also putting extreme pressure on any Arsenal player with the ball. Arsenal found it hard to cope and couldn't get their passing game going, but they were holding firm in defence and Dortmund didn't actually open them up. The breakthrough for Dortmund came just after the quarter hour mark and it was a self inflicted wound for Arsenal.

Aaron Ramsey was dispossessed while trying to bring the ball out from in front of his own box and within moments the ball was in the back of the net. Ramsey has had a fantastic season so far but he wasn't really at the races last night and his touch and passing were both well off what they have been up to now. The contrast between last Saturday night and last night for him was huge but so was the contrast in the quality of the opposition.

Gradually Arsenal began to get into the game and they had some real encouragement when a Dortmund defender somehow managed to appear behind the keeper and block a Rosicky shot almost on the line. Dortmund had worked very hard up to that point and Arsenal looked to have a chance as they tired with half time approaching. A few minutes before the interval they got the break they wanted to equalise.

A great cross from Bacary Sagna went into the space between the keeper and his defence and in the subsequent chaos Olivier Giroud pounced to put the ball into an empty net. It was just what Arsenal needed as half time approached and I hoped they could pick up the pace after the break and take the game to Dortmund. 

The second half started in the same vein as the first though and for 10 minutes Dortmund again took control. Arsenal got back into it a lot sooner in the second half though and gradually they took over and pushed forward looking for a winning goal. The introduction of Cazorla for Wilshere with 30 minutes remaining had a real impact on their ability to keep the ball and he came closest to getting that goal with a super shot which hit the woodwork. 

Dortmund had put in an awful lot of hard work and as a team they covered a lot more ground than Arsenal which gave me hope that Arsenal would have enough left to get the winner. It wasn't to be though as Dortmund showed they still had something in the tank with a swift counter attack after Giroud lost the ball with eight minutes left. By the time the ball reached Lewandowski at the far post he had the relatively easy task of putting it into the net. 

Dortmund found it very easy to see the game out after that and Arsenal never threatened again. Both Nicklas Bendtner and Serge Gnabry came on in the dying minutes but there was no time for either of them to make an impact. 

Arsenal paid the price for over committing players in search of a winning goal and it probably cost them a point. That point could have proved to be very important come the end of the group and Arsenal will now need to take something away from home to either Dortmund or Napoli or maybe even both of them. It's not a task that's beyond this team and they have shown for quite a while now that they are a force to be reckoned with away from home.

Arsene Wenger spoke of the players being tired after the game and there is no doubt that too many players have had to play too often already this season. The returning players need to be reintroduced into the team as soon as possible to enable others to get some much needed down time. Maybe if Ramsey and Ozil had got a break at the weekend they might have had more to offer last night when the going got tough. 

I'm not disheartened by last night's result though because a below par Arsenal really should have taken a point and I think they have a lot more to offer in the remaining group games. A defeat in the next game away to Dortmund would leave them in a perilous position though and would mean they would probably have to win in Napoli to have a chance of progressing. I think they can get a result at Dortmund and I hope they can do so, but it's sandwiched between games against Liverpool and United in the league.

That week could have a huge bearing on the rest of the season for Arsenal and it promises to be one of high drama. Before that there's a league game at Palace on Saturday and it's one Arsenal should win comfortably as long as they treat Palace with the respect they deserve. After that there's a Capital One Cup game against Chelsea which really is a game that needs to be gotten out of the way.

It's a competition which is actually getting in the way at the moment and hopefully none of the really important players will be risked in it. The three games coming up after it are far too important for Arsenal and personally I would prefer it if West Brom had knocked Arsenal out on penalties in the last round. I'm sure plenty of fringe players and players returning from injury will play in that game and the likes of Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey and Giroud will sit it out.

Getting back to last night I thought Mikael Arteta had a great game shielding the defence for Arsenal and he showed he can do the job Flamini is so good at. I still can't see the need to play them both in all but the very toughest games and hopefully the boss will think so too. It was one of those games last night and maybe the team might have fared better if Flamini had been fit to take his place alongside Arteta.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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