Thursday, 27 November 2014

Arsenal Advance In Europe As More Injuries Strike

Last night was a good night for Arsenal for the first time in a while as they beat Dortmund to guarantee their place in the last 16 of the Champions League. After throwing away a three goal lead at home to Anderlecht in their last group game Dortmund looked like a frightening prospect as they brought their 100% record to the Emirates. A draw was all Arsenal needed to guarantee the runners up spot in the group, but their win still gives them an outside chance of topping the group.

To win the group they will have to win away to Galatasaray by at least six goals if Dortmund draw at home to Anderlecht or just win if Anderlecht win that game. The chances of either scenario are highly unlikely as Arsene Wenger is sure to give his fringe players a run out in that game and Anderlect have already secured third place in the group and a spot in the last 32 of the Europa League.

The boss made three changes from the team which somehow managed to lose at home to United on Saturday. Emiliano Martinez replaced the injured Wojciech Szczesny in goal, Santi Cazorla came in for the injured Jack Wilshere in midfield and Yaya Sanogo started in attack with Danny Welbeck injured or not risked. It meant Cazorla assumed the playmakers role and he took the chance to show how he likes that role with a very good display. Sanogo hadn't managed a goal for Arsenal since he joined at the start of last season and I didn't hold out much hope of him breaking that duck to be honest.

I'm delighted to admit I was wrong as it took him only 75 seconds to get his name on the scoresheet. He controlled a throw in and laid it off to Cazorla before taking the return ball and slotting it through the advancing keeper's legs and into the net. It was just the start Arsenal needed and luck went their way for a change recently as Sanogo was marginally offside, but the offside wasn't given.

After that it became scrappy for a while with both teams closing each down quickly and very little time on the ball for anybody. Dortmund only made one decent chance in the first half, but Martinez was up to the challenge and made a fine save at his near post just before the break. At the other end a little more composure from Sanogo would have seen him increase the lead as Arsenal looked the most likely to score the next goal.

Dortmund came out of the traps flying in the second half and Arsenal seemed content to hit them on the break. It was just short of the hour mark when they increased their lead and it just had to be Alexis Sanchez who got the goal. He has been quite magnificent since he joined Arsenal and it looked like his high tempo game had been adopted by his team mates last night too.

He took a pass from that man Cazorla again on the left side just outside the area before cutting inside the defender and unleashing a curler into the far corner. I can't remember seeing an Arsenal player score a goal like that since the days of Thierry Henry and Denis Bergkamp. That goal gave Arsenal a two goal advantage and they didn't look like surrendering it for a change.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came closest to adding his name to the scoresheet when he teed the ball up and placed a great shot which left the keeper flat footed, but it came back off the bar. He was another player who put in a great performance and he looks to be really finding his feet now that he's a more permanent fixture in the team. Both he and Calum Chambers gave the left side of the Dortmund defence a rough ride all night.

I thought Mikel Arteta had an excellent game in midfield too and it was worrying to see him limp off yet again. Hopefully he won't be out for too long although Mathieu Flamini played well when he replaced him. Overall the midfield defended as a unit in the second half in particular and didn't over commit going forward and the team reaped the benefits.

It's almost as if they and the boss learned a lesson and decided it's easier to win games if you don't throw goals away. Hopefully that lesson will be remembered over the next few weeks and the team can put a run together to strengthen their position in the league. There's still 26 league games to play and there's no reason why a properly focused Arsenal can't win almost 20 of those games.

I thought Martinez did all that could be asked of him and made another very good save late on to keep the score at 2-0 and stop Arsenal getting any late jitters. On last night's display he should be challenging Szczesny for his place in the team considering how Szczesny has played this season. Hopefully the realisation he has an actual challenger will get Szczesny to improve his game too.

Nacho Monreal has had plenty of criticism lately as he has been asked to play a role he's not accustomed to and has struggled there. He looked a lot better last night and maybe he is beginning to adjust to life as a central defender. I did read one fan on Twitter suggest he will be Laurent Koscielny's partner in central defence when Koscielny returns at the expense of Per Mertesacker, but I doubt that very much. Mertesacker has been far from his best recently, but I think he will benefit from Koscielny's return as will all of the defence.

I know Dortmund are struggling badly in their domestic league and had already assured their qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League before last night, but I was still impressed with Arsenal. They went about what they had to do in a professional manner and got the win they needed to make sure they don't need to get something from the trip to Galatasaray next month. Hopefully that win will help to rebuild some of the confidence the team has been so badly missing.

Arsenal are still far from their best, but the only way to get through a spell like the one they are going through is with hard work and commitment. They showed both of them in abundance last night as well as playing with a fair deal of intelligence too. A few more performances like that and the confidence will come flooding back and hopefully the good football Arsenal are known for too.

Unfortunately the injury position at the club didn't improve last night with both Arteta and Sanogo going off after picking up knocks. Then there was the news that Jack Wilshere will be out for three months after undergoing surgery on the ankle he injured against United on Saturday. Just as it looked like the squad was getting close to full strength the players have started dropping like flies yet again.

There were so many positives from the game after the recent run of negative performances and results. There are three league games coming up in quick succession before the trip to Galatasaray and an opportunity for the team to make a move up the table. If they can take all nine points from those three games they will be in a much healthier position, but it will be a far from easy task. It's one that's not beyond the team and hopefully they can do just that.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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