Arsenal 2-1 Borussia Dortmund: On-Song Gunners get the job done
Team: Szczesny, Koscielny (Djourou), Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Santos, Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Walcott (Diaby), van Persie, Gervinho (Benayoun)
The Short Report
Two more goals from Robin van Persie sent us through to the Champions League knockout phase as winners of Group F. Dortmund played their part in a high-quality contest but couldn’t cope with the man who has been reducing defenders into quivering wrecks all year.
The AL Report
As Arsenal fans, we rarely see our team make life easy for themselves. Last night was one of those rare occasions when we did just that, overcoming an impressive Dortmund side to seal our passage into the Champions League knockout phases for the twelfth year in a row.
Robin van Persie’s second half brace ensured that we are guaranteed to finish top of the group and can go to Athens with a Carling Cup squad. Not even a stoppage time consolation for the Germans could take the gloss of last night’s victory as our ‘revival’ is starting to blossom into a full-blown renaissance.
Dogged defending from both sides meant that the first half was a cagey affair with few clear chances. The visitors were under real pressure to force the issue, but they were severely hampered by the loss of two key players. Sven Bender broke his jaw in a clash with Thomas Vermaelen and Mario Gotze went off with a knee injury. The youngster, who caught the eye in the first game, earned a generous ovation from the North Bank, perhaps hoping that his next appearance in North London would be in red and white.
Dortmund nearly caught us cold immediately after the break with two openings, but just four minutes in, we took the lead. Van Persie may have got the goal, but it was largely thanks to some outrageous skill from Alex Song popping up on the left hand side to bamboozle a bunch of defenders before picking out a perfect cross. It was a neat header by the skipper, who directed it downwards just inside the post, leaving Roman Weidenfeller clutching at thin air.
We really began to assert our authority after the goal and a disciplined defensive performance from the whole team meant that Dortmund rarely posed a threat. Abou Diaby came on for his first appearance of the season just in time for our second goal on 85 minutes. Mikel Arteta’s corner was nodded back by Vermaelen straight into the path of an unmarked RVP to sweep home.
Some unsuccessful time-wasting between Song and Johan Djourou ensured that the last kick of the game was a Dortmund goal from Shinji Kagawa, but it didn’t matter. We have qualified with a match to spare and more importantly, we will avoid another premature encounter with our friends from Catalonia.
Man of the Match
Alex Song produced a moment of breathtaking quality to set up our opening goal, but his defensive qualities came to the fore last night. His constant hustling for possession and snapping into challenges helped us win the midfield battle and his distribution was tidy all night. It is hard to credit that this is the same player who was hauled off in disgrace at Fulham a few years ago. On current form, possibly only Yaya Toure is better in his position.
Gervinho was once again at the heart of most of our attacking play but was let down by lack of composure in front of goal. He wasted a glorious chance with only the keeper to beat in the second half to add to similarly spectacular misses at Stamford Bridge and Carrow Road. His last goal at home to Stoke last month was much more difficult to execute than the opportunities he has spurned recently. The fact he is getting into these positions so often is encouraging and hopefully he won’t have to wait too long to make amends.
Moan of the Match
The stoppage time consolation goal was a silly way to end a match in which we defended so resolutely. Thankfully it had no impact on the result, but it clearly irked Wojciech Szczesny. The sense of irritation soon dissipated as the final whistle blew and the PA announcer confirmed Marseille’s defeat and that our position at the top of the group was unassailable.
The Final Word
It is an absolute pleasure to watch us develop from a side that looked hastily thrown together at the end of the transfer window to one that is full of maturity, composure and no little flair. Everyone is taking responsibility for defending and regaining possession and there is a great sense of unity that we haven’t seen for some time.
Van Persie is a charismatic captain who commands the respect of all around him. In midfield, we have a good blend of aggression and creativity, personified last night by Song. Theo Walcott and Gervinho are able to offer a sustained threat on the wings, supplying plenty of ammunition for RVP. Even the much-maligned back four are starting to look more settled. Andre Santos put in his best shift so far and Per Mertesacker banished the memory of his error at the weekend with an assured performance alongside Vermaelen.
A special mention has to go to the magnificent Dortmund fans who travelled in great numbers, made plenty of noise and ensured it was a colourful occasion. As soon as we look the lead, they goaded us in perfect English by chanting ‘You only sing when you’re winning’. They must be among the favourites to win the Europa League now.
In the meantime, it is onwards and upwards for us. Three very winnable looking fixtures should allow us to build more momentum ahead of that mouthwatering clash at Eastlands in mid-December.
Next up: An early evening London derby with Fulham on Saturday and a touchline reunion for Arsene Wenger and Martin Jol.
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2011-12 | Match Reports