Borussia Dortmund 1 – 1 Arsenal

Champions League Group F – Borussia Dortmund 1 – 1 Arsenal.

Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller – Subotic – Hummels – Piszczek – Scmelzer – Kehl (Blaszczykowski – 67) – Gotze – Grosskreutz (Perisic – 68) – Bender – Lewandowski – Kagawa (Zidan – 83)

Goal – Perisic – 88

Arsenal: Szczesny – Sagna – Gibbs – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Song – Arteta – Walcott (Frimpong – 76) – Gervinho (Santos – 84) – Benayoun – Van Persie (Chamakh – 84)

Goal – Van Persie – 42

With Arsene Wenger confined to the stands Pat Rice led Arsenal to what should be considered a valid and well deserved point against the Bundesliga champions.

I stated in the Arsenal’s Talking Heads section yesterday that we would have a tough time against Dortmund’s centre back pairing of Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic and that certainly proved to be the case. The two international centre halves are absolutely outstanding defenders and it was obvious to see why they’re both highly admired and sought after. But it was the defensive discipline of Arsenal that was the most impressive and in particular the performances of Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Alex Song and Wojciech Szczesny.

I mentioned yesterday that Alex Song would need to be disciplined, shield the back four and curb his enthusiasm for getting forward at inopportune moments and as the went on he grew in stature and did just that. If the Cameroonian can perform like he did last night, and at home against Chelsea last season, week in week out we could be talking about a world-class defensive midfielder – maybe after his in discipline at St James’ on the opening day and subsequent domestic ban and Frimpong now chomping at his heels he’ll buck his ideas up and we’ll see performances of this stature on a regular basis.

The opening minutes of the game were certainly scrappy and either side could have taken an early lead – Gervinho was unfortunate not to get a shoot off after make a smart run into the box, Hummels was on hand to get back and do enough to disrupt the Ivorian. At the other end Shinji Kagawa, for the first but certainly not the last time, raced clear of the Arsenal defence and struck his volley over the bar. It was an early warning from the Japanese midfielder who is in only his second season with the Borussians. I mentioned him in yesterday’s blog as one of the German sides danger men and at just 22 years old the former Cerezo Osaka playmaker signed in 2010 for just £250,000 has a big future ahead of him and it’s no surprise that Arsene Wenger has already been credited with an interest in the youngster.

Another of the German teams young stars, who was reportedly a target of the Gunners this summer, Mario Gotze also started the game brightly and as the minutes ticked by it was Jurgen Klopp’s side who looked increasingly likely to take a lead with Arsenal seemingly getting more jittery with every wave of Dortmund attacks.

When possession of he ball was gained it was striking how inafective our players seemed to be with it and at points seemingly unwilling to receive the ball at all – there seemed to be a growing tendency as the half wore on for players to be left isolated with the ball at their feet and no team-mate moving towards the ball, in fact around about the half hour mark it got so bad that after receiving the ball from Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs was so devoid of options that he passed it back to the goalkeeper.

Theo Walcott and Gervinho were both guilty of running straight into opposition players with a degree of regularity – have to say that I do feel that once Gervinho gets a real run of games under his belt he will be dynamite, at the moment it’s his decision-making which lets him down. He could so often lay the ball off or play a pass for a team-mate but chooses to take his man on every time. *In fairness, he was often devoid of that option last night as I said.

Mickey Arteta and Yossi Benayoun seemed unable to really get into the game for much of the first half and while each showed flashes of their undoubted ability they were unable to provide that creative spark we’re expecting from the pair, until…

Benny found RVP on the edge of the Dortmund penalty box with a delightful through ball, the skipper maybe had slightly more time then he realised and didn’t quite hit the shoot with enough power to trouble Weinedfeller. Ten minutes later the Dutchman made up for it…

Robin himself intercepted a poor pass from Sebastian Kehl and the ball fell to Theo Walcott. The captain continued his run towards goal and Theo played the perfect ball back to him. This time Van Persie did everything right and his finish summed up why he is so important to the side and must be kept fit and signed to a new deal. It was a great goal to give us the lead as the clock ticked towards the end of the half.

As the second half began Arsenal’s attacking threat improved but the home sides own prowess in that department didn’t diminish. Kagawa continued to shine and game started to open up a little more.

Gervinho had another decent chance, and while he battled well to keep pushing forward in the face of German interceptions ultimately he couldn’t get his foot through the ball after recovering well from loosing his footing and momentarily falling to the ground.

What followed from then on was wave after wave of German attacks and it felt like only a matter of time until the equalizer came. Szczesny was once again commanding of both his area and the Arsenal defenders in front of him and Koscielny and Mertesacker were the busiest men on the pitch making interceptions and clearances, along with the ever impressive best right back in world football – Bacary Sagna. I have to say that our German centre back could quite easily come in for some criticism going forward but I don’t really think it would be fair – due to his height he can give the impression that he is gangly and unimposing, much in the same way Peter Crouch often is (actually I think the Soke front man is)

Koscielny just keeps impressing me and I still maintain that when Vermaelen is back it is the Frenchman who should partner the Belgian at the back.

Dortmund had a clutch of spurned opportunities as they continued to threaten us and Pat Rice replaced Theo with Emmanuel Frimpong. The Ghanaian lined up alongside Alex Song to offer more protection and Benayoun switched to the left flank in front of Kieran Gibbs.

Neven Subotic and Mario Gotze had great chances to level the score but the Serbs header was directed straight at Szczesny and the teenage German playmaker hit a shoot just wide of the goal.

It started to look as if we were going to see the game out and take the three points home. Andre Santos made his debut coming on in place of Gervinho and it was another push at shoring things up as the minutes ticked by. Chamakh came on at the same time and replaced our captain and goal scorer, so clearly we had decided not to attempt to extend our lead and put the game beyond the home side.

Despite being only minutes away from a hard-fought victory the equalizer came in the form of the all too familiar wonder goal.

With only two minutes of the regulation ninety remaining Dortmund won a free-kick which was cleared away but subsequently fell to the Dortmund sub Perisic who hit a wonderful volley on the edge of the area and into the top right hand corner of our goal.

It was a real body blow and I felt so disappointed for our players, whilst you can argue that the home team deserved a point (and I’m sure they will) I think we were equally deserving of the victory. But in the end perhaps a draw was a fair result especially as BVB had the chance to nick all the points in added time only for Szczesny to make a fantastic save and secure our point.

We all expected this to be a tough test, and most likely our toughest of the group stage, and were all prepared to accept a draw at the outset so all in all there is no room for complaint or disappointment here.

While we were never really able to play an exciting and attacking game credit must go to all the players for putting a shift in and making sure we didn’t start the campaign with defeat. I’ve already mentioned Szczesny, Sagna, Song and Koscielny but props must also go to Benny and Mickey who showed that they can tough it out and mix it with the best of ’em when it’s needed. Praise also has to go to Robin for yet another vital goal, even if it again highlights our reliance on the fragile Dutchman with the dwindling contract.

And also massive credit to Pat Rice, so often derided and criticised. It was telling that in his post match interview Woj said: “Pat motivates us and shouts at us a lot”

I don’t think the Pole was just talking about last night.

Considering we’re so often criticised for not being able to scrap it out this was a performance to take heart from. It’s another step away from what happened at Old Trafford and the players will take the confidence into Saturdays game at Ewood Park.

My post match thoughts have been added to ‘Talking Heads’ on Arsenal.com where you’ll also see  post match reaction added to yesterdays musings by Dan Roebuck & Martin Hayes.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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