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Posted: 14/09/2011
By Michael Strevens
Category: Match Reports

Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Arsenal: denied at the death

Team: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Song, Arteta, Benayoun, Walcott (Frimpong), van Persie (Santos), Gervinho (Chamakh)

The Short Report

A stunning last gasp equaliser denied us a memorable win at the home of the German Champions. Robin van Persie’s excellent strike just before half-time prompted a brave rear-guard action in the second half, but we couldn't quite hold on.

The AL Report

Can you remember the last time we started a Champions League group game as such underdogs? I certainly can’t. After Saturday’s unconvincing win, many expected us to struggle in Germany. In the event, it took a truly unstoppable late goal to deny us three points at the expense of our much-vaunted opponents.

In theory, our opening match should have been against the weakest outfit in Group F, but the vagaries of UEFA’s coefficient system pitted us against a side that walked away with the Bundesliga last season. Packed with flair, young talent and a reputation for quick, incisive, attacking football, Dortmund embody similar ideals to those held so dear by Arsene Wenger.  Yet their title defence has got off to a stuttering start and they warmed up for this contest with a shock defeat at home to newly promoted Hertha Berlin.

The boss, made to sit this one out thanks to UEFA’s ludicrous extension of his touchline ban, joked that he would try to send his ‘vibes’ to the team. It is doubtful they would have found their way from his position high up in the gods through the raucous atmosphere created by the home supporters. Missing from Europe’s elite from nearly a decade, they clearly relished the occasion and ensured the Westfalonstadion was a cauldron of noise and colour before kick-off.

Given a swift return to his homeland, Per Mertesacker was part of an unchanged back four. Yossi Benayoun was handed his full debut alongside Mikel Arteta and the returning Alex Song in midfield. Gervinho, also coming back after a domestic suspension replaced Saturday’s goalscorer Andrey Arshavin. With Theo Walcott on the other wing, we appeared set up to hit Dortmund on the break with pace.

The hosts dominated the early action and it took us a while to settle down, but we did have an excellent early chance to take the lead. Gervinho found himself in the box with a sight on goal, but got tangled up with Mats Hummels and could only hook it weakly to the keeper.

Initially, we looked uncomfortable in possession and gave the ball away far too cheaply, with Laurent Koscielny being one of the worst culprits., We were starting to find ourselves memorised by the pretty patterns weaved by Mario Götze and Shinji Kagawa . The Japanese star should have done much better when he was put through on goal by a ball over the top that somehow eluded our defence. Luckily for us, he could only shank it over the bar.

They went even closer a few minutes later when striker Robert Lewandowski stayed onside to round his compatriot Wojciech Szczesny. Bacary Sagna beat his goal-bound effort away with a brilliant clearance on the line as we were forced to dig in.

We did show flashes of attacking intent. Midway through the half, Walcott latched onto a Gervinho pass and sprinted into the box, but he was dispossessed with ease. Ten minutes later, the industrious Benayoun found Robin van Persie with a searching pass over the top, but the skipper mistimed his volley, which was saved easily by Roman Weidenfeller.

Going into the break with a clean sheet seemed to be the priority, but on 42 minutes we took an improbable lead. Van Persie brilliantly intercepted BVB captain Sebastian Kehl’s casual pass and scooped it to Walcott in one movement before running into space. Theo found him with a delightful ball that was buried by the Dutchman on his weaker right foot. It was the sweetest of strikes straight from the chocolate leg and it ensured we went into the dressing room at half time with an advantage to protect.

Galvanised by the goal, we came out in the second half with a new-found determination. Mikel Arteta may have been signed to provide creativity, but here he showed an aspect of his game most of us won’t have been familiar with. He tackled strongly, broke up Dortmund’s attacks and got a bloody ear after a brave aeriel challenge kept Hummels at bay from a corner. Alex Song was magnificent too, never afraid to get his foot in, winning the ball back and distributing it cleanly – how we’ve missed him this season.

Our main job was one of containment, but Gervinho could have doubled our lead when he was put through by Gibbs, stumbling, and then regaining his balance before sidefooting tamely at Weidenfeller.

The Germans began to crank up the pressure, with Götze showing exactly why he is one of the most sought-after players in Europe with sparkling touches on the right wing. The real difference between the first and the second half was that our defending was much more assured. Nobody epitomised this transformation more than Laurent Koscieny who grew in stature as the game went on – the weak, ineffectual clearances were replaced with clear, decisive action.

Pat Rice introduced Emmanuel Frimpong  and Andre Santos to add steel in the final ten minutes. Szczesny made a brilliant save from Nevan Subotic, but there was nothing he could do about Ivan Persic’s equaliser. We looked to have repelled yet another searching ball into the box, but sadly Kieran Gibbs’s headed clearance fell to Peresic on the edge of the area. The Croatian substitute rifled in a volley that swerved viciously and dipped in just under the bar. You are unlikely to see a better finish in this competition all season.

Scenting blood, BVB tried to force a winner, but Szczesny was the hero yet again, brilliantly denying Lewandowski deep into injury time. 

There were mixed feelings at the final whistle. The late goal was tough on us after such a gutsy display but in a tricky group, we should reflect on this as a point gained.

Next up: A lunchtime kick-off in Lancashire as we face rock-bottom Blackburn at Ewood Park.

Man of the Match

An act of petulance at St James’s Park last month cost us Alex Song for three vital league games. In stark contrast, his performance in Germany was a model of maturity and discipline.  A calm presence in midfield - he shielded the defence brilliantly throughout and his tackling was immaculate. A crucial challenge on Götze in the second half prevented an almost certain goal.

Player Focus

Per Mertesacker made a solid debut on Saturday, even if the pace of the English game appeared to take him by surprise. Up against familiar opponents last night, he looked comfortable alongside Laurent Koscielny and was strong in the air as you would expect from someone of his stature. Koscielny made the more eye-catching contribution, but the German remained unruffled as Dortmund searched for an equaliser. Early impressions suggest he will bring an authority to our back four that we’ve been lacking for some time, particularly when it comes to defending set-pieces.

Moan of the Match

At the end of the game, Arsene Wenger was forced to wait for exactly 15 minutes in the stands before he could join his players in the dressing room. Leaving aside the ridiculousness of the touchline ban in the first place, it seemed to be an excessively petty insult to injury. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it was Michel Platini who insisted that he watch the game alongside Peter Hill-Wood as extra punishment.

The Final Word

Resilience, composure and maturity were the hallmarks of a performance that bodes very well indeed for our new-look team.

In his post-match interview, Pat Rice compared Dortmund’s goal to Danny Rose’s volley against us at White Hart Lane a couple of seasons ago. He was right – it was a once in a lifetime strike that we could do absolutely nothing about.

But the immediate sense of disappointment at being unable to hold on has since been replaced by pride in our performance, particularly the way in which we defended as a team. Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun lead by example and you can already see how their experience will benefit the younger players around them.

We are very much a work in progress, but the signs are that there is hard work going on at the training ground to get the basics right. Blackburn will represent a very different kind test at the weekend. If we can get through it unscathed, then it might be time to declare the crisis over.

Follow me on Twitter: @Mike_N5

Category

2011-12 | Match Reports

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