Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Arsenal v Dortmund Preview

Arsenal have had a very poor start to their season and the wheels have really come off in the last few weeks in particular. They hadn't been playing well, but had won three games in a row and were 3-0 up at home to Anderlecht with half an hour to play when they just fell apart. Anderlecht came back to draw that game at the Emirates 3-3 and Arsenal have followed it with defeats to Swansea and United when they really should have won both games.

If they had beaten Anderlecht they would have been through to the last 16 of the Champions League and looking to beat Dortmund tonight to try to win their group. Dortmund are through already after winning their first four games despite an horrendous start to their domestic campaign which sees them in the bottom three in the league with seven defeats in their first 12 games. They won 2-0 at home to Arsenal in the opening group game though and probably should have won that game by even more.

Dortmund are going to win the group regardless of tonight's result with Anderlecht at home in their last game and a five point gap over second placed Arsenal. What Arsenal need from this game is a point to make sure they don't have to go to Galatasaray in their last game looking to avoid defeat to qualify. That's a scenario I would not like to see this Arsenal team facing considering the lack of bottle they have displayed all too often.

A second place finish in their group is hardly ideal, but they would have a chance in the last 16 depending on the draw. If they do come second they can't play Chelsea or Dortmund, but both Leverkusen and Porto should win their groups and Arsenal would have a real chance against either of them. Of course the other four group winners would be daunting prospects in the last 16, but who knows Arsenal might even be playing well by then.

The injury situation at Arsenal just doesn't seem to get any better with Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny both absent from Saturday's team through injury. Theo Walcott isn't fit to return after coming back from international duty injured while there is still some doubt over Danny Welbeck's participation. Of course Mesut Ozil, Mathieu Debuchey and David Ospina are all still unavailable and players are currently being added to the injury list quicker than they are coming off it.

The recent early return of Olivier Giroud has been tempered by the news he's not in Arsenal's 25 man Champions League squad. He wasn't expected to be ready to return before the group stages were over and as a result he was left out of the squad. If Welbeck isn't fit to play it will mean Yaya Sanogo could possibly lead the line although I suspect Alexis Sanchez would play the central strikers role. 

The only good news on the injury front is the return of Laurent Koscielny to the squad, but I'm not sure if he will be match fit. He has been sorely missed for the past month or so and his return to the defence can't come quickly enough for me. Nacho Monreal is no centre back for me or anyone else for that matter and the team has suffered with him drafted into that position.

Of course it's not Monreal's fault he has had to play in an unfamiliar position due to Koscielny's injury. If the club had gone about their recruitments correctly in the summer there would be viable alternatives in the cente of defence instead of having to play a left back who is clearly uncomfortable in the position. The defensive unit has struggled this season and even more so since the best defender at the club picked up his injury.

With Szczesny injured it means Emiliano Martinez will play in goal again as he did in the away win against Anderlecht and when Szczesny went off injured on Saturday. It also means the substitute goalkeeper will again be 17 year old Ryan Huddart and we can only hope he won't be called upon. I'm not saying I don't think he might one day make it, but who would want to make their competitive debut behind the current Arsenal defence.

The team is more than likely going to be similar to the one which contrived to somehow lose to United on Saturday and they will find themselves going the same way if they don't put Dortmund away if they are on top like they were against United. Of course Wilshere is out which will probably see the return of Mathieu Flamini to the team in midfield. Hopefully his inclusion will offer some defensive solidity if he plays, but he has been very error prone at times this season. 

If Arsenal are going to get the point they need or even more from the game then Alexis is going to be crucial to their chances as usual. He has been the one bright point in this season so far for Arsenal and his purchase last summer was a magnificent piece of business. He has settled into the team and the league so well that you wouldn't know it was his first season in English football and he's one of the few players in the league who can win a game all on his own.

Dortmund haven't carried their league form into the Champions League as they have strolled to four wins in the group, but surely they can be got at if they have been so poor domestically. They play a high tempo game and put their opponents under pressure on the ball and Arsenal have struggled against teams who play like that. If Arsenal can pass the ball quickly enough they can get in behind Dortmund and then it's a matter of taking any chances they might get.

I'd be more than happy with a draw to guarantee a place in the last 16 with a game to spare so the players can concentrate on Saturday's early kick off at West Brom. Arsenal need to stop the rot somewhere and a point against Dortmund might just be enough to do that. I don't think they can win by the margin they need to give themselves a chance of winning the group and it would probably be foolish to try to go all out for that win and possibly get picked off by Dortmund.

If Arsenal do fall behind they have to keep their shape and keep playing the right way and they cannot lose all shape like they did on Saturday. The manager also has to send the right team out there with the right instructions to get the result they need from the game and he has to be able to change things on the field if they aren't working. He doesn't seem to be able to do so at the moment and it's something he has to be able to do as the manager.

I have no doubt Arsenal are capable of winning and the draw they need is well within their abilities too. I just hope they play to their potential and don't go to pieces if they do go behind or even concede a goal like they have done far too often recently. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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