Written by Gooner in Exile
A trip to the German Champions in their mighty fortress was always going to be a difficult game. We went with a team that is still getting to know each other’s first names so the writing was on the wall and every pundit pre match was predicting we would be lucky to escape with a draw.
Dortmund started brightly dominating possession and exploiting our high line and Per’s lack of pace, they were full of running and the little wizard Goetze was at the heart of most things good from them. Through poor finishing and committed defending we managed to keep them at bay and slowly get ourselves in to the match. The best chance during this spell came from a poor touch by Gibbs seized upon by Goetze who played a lovely reverse pass to Lewandowski who rounded Szczesny but Sagna had covered well and cleared off the line.
Arsenal were creating problems for themselves, the ball was sticking in the midfield when pressure needed to be relieved, a number of players (one of the main culprits Gibbs) were pushing the ball backwards and sideways rather than looking forward and Dortmund were swarming in numbers to win back possession in the defensive third. At times I would just like to see us punt the ball out of defence and into the other half of the pitch.
The period was not without its chances for Arsenal though, Gervinho denied by a last second tackle by Hummels whilst waiting for the ball to drop, after switching wings Gevinho released Theo but unfortunately his first touch took the ball too far and towards Hummels, a better first touch and he would have had options to play in Van Persie or play for the penalty with his second touch.
Benayoun looked to set Gervinho away, the ball was cleared straight back to the Israeli who reacted to push another pass to Van Persie who forced the keeper into a save at his near post.
Finally the deadlock was broken, Dortmund were guilty of slowly playing out from the back, Van Persie hassled for the ball and touched it to Theo, Theo seized on the opportunity to push forward and played a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Van Persie who composed himself picked his spot and put us one nil up with two or three minutes of the half remaining.
The second half started in much the same way as the first with Dortmund pressing with and without the ball but Arsenal seemed to withstand the pressure better, the ball was being played longer from midfield to attack and between Theo, Gervinho and Van Persie the ball was staying up the pitch for longer which meant the defence was given a much needed rest to regroup and reorganise.
During this spell we forced a couple of free kicks but unfortunately neither Arteta or Walcott could produce a telling strike.
Dortmund slowly got themselves back on the front foot and were mounting large periods of possession in the Arsenal defensive third. For the most part the team stood firm, Koscielny, Song, and Sagna all getting involved in good blocks or tackles, Mertesacker winning high balls and when the ball did break through the defence Szczesny was there to provide the final barrier.
During this period the two of the new signings, Arteta and Benayoun, provided good work-rate they covered runs made tackles and won free kicks when they could easily have lost possession. Their commitment to the harder parts of the game was good to see from players who some would possibly regard as flair players. Their energy meant that Song could stay more central and provide a screen to the centre backs.
Trying to steady the ship young Frimpong replaced Walcott and Benayoun went out to left midfield, soon after Benayoun was moved on to the right as Gervinho was replaced by Santos and Chamakh came on for the tiring Van Persie.
These changes restricted any forward movement so it was going to be backs to the wall for the last ten minutes or so. The Dortmund pressure was calmly dealt with by our defence and the clean sheet was looking good.
Unfortunately it couldn’t last from a passage of triangle passing between Benayoun, Arteta and Frimpong who had no forward outlet the ball was lost resulting in Song conceding a free kick to stop a breakway. Gibbs rose well to head away the firmly delivered set piece but the ball looped out to Perisic who struck an unstoppable volley into the top right corner. There was simply no legislating for that strike, the harshest critic will say that too many red shirts had got sucked into the area and the Dortmund players on the edge of the box were left unattended.
There was still time for Szczesny to be called into action once more as he spread himself at the feet of Lewandowski to prevent a Dortmund winner.
So a point away from home in the Champions League in the bag and some valuable lessons learned about our strengths and weaknesses.
For me the team still has some gelling to do, hopefully three days training together before the visit to Blackburn will give the players the chance to at least learn each others names and maybe even how each other likes to play, that presently is our weakness.
As for strength, well tonight there seemed to be something that I haven’t seen for a while certainly not in the latter stages of last season, players were taking responsibility, Szczesny was grabbing bodies at corners and telling them where to stand, Benayoun and Arteta were working hard tracking back to win the ball back and put themselves where it hurts. Spurred on by this Van Persie was tracking back deep into his own half. From the ashes I think a team is rising, a slightly different team, one with a different mentality, one prepared to fight, one prepared to do what it takes to win. The future is looking brighter every game.
I don’t normally like ratings but today I thought I would give some as I thought a few players deserved mention that I could not put fit in the report.
Szczesny – 8 Solid start to finish, calm and composed, confident claiming high balls and some important saves.
Gibbs – 6 For me our weakest player tonight, too often turning back inside with nowhere to go when in possession, and dereliction of defensive duties for most of the first half allowing runners to get away too easily
Sagna – 7 Mr Dependable, as ever, solid in the tackle careful with possession, but did not offer as much going forward as he normally does.
Koscielny – 8 Despite some wayward passing in the early stages I thought he stood firm against a very talented Dortmund attack, made many good interceptions and tackles, was strong in the air, took a mighty thump to the head from Sagna and Subotic combined but just gets on with little complaint.
Mertesacker – 6.5 His pace was exposed on occasion when they played around him on the floor, but when they resorted to high balls he came into his own, will suit the bigger teams in the Premier League but we will need Vermaelen and Koscielny when it comes to the trickier attackers of City and the like.
Song – 7.5 Provided the screen as needed (especially in the second half) also retained possession well in both halves, took time to settle in the first half alongside the two new lads.
Arteta – 7 For me he gets a 6 for his first half display and 8 for the second, felt the game passed him by in the first half, but when he started to get hold of the ball and pick the longer passes he provided a good outlet and used it well, second half he put himself on the line in defence and got a nice cut on the head for his trouble.
Benayoun – 7.5 Slightly out performed Arteta, with a better display first half going forward, but most impressed and surprised by his work rate defensively.
Gervinho – 6.5 Too many blind alleys run down, needs to get his head up and use his teammates more, had the chance to lay in Theo when one on one.
Walcott – 6.5 Up until he pushed the assist through he had hardly been in the game, and had been guilty of losing possession too easily. Second half was better but should have used his pace better when he had the opportunity to.
Van Persie – 7.5 The half point is for the goal, otherwise a quiet first half, again much better second half and upped his work rate, I’d prefer him to come off every match on 75 minutes shattered than conserve himself to get through ninety minutes.
Subs, Frimpong, Chamakh and Santos not enough time to rate.
Man of the Match – Koscielny