So the good run was never going to last forever. Such was the run Arsenal had been on though, it was still a surprise to see it end against a team that were beaten finalists in the Champions League last season.
Borussia Dortmund’s 2-1 win at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday merely confirmed that Arsenal are in the group of death in the Champions League. Having had the potential to almost kill the group off, now the Gunners are right in the thick of the battle, with 10 points possibly not being enough to make it through given how Marseille are yet to pick up a point, with Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli all level on six points.
Trying to put a positive spin on the result, there’s a strong argument to say that this could be what this Arsenal team needs, so long as it doesn’t have a lasting and damaging effect on the team’s confidence. Arsene Wenger’s side recovered brilliantly from their first home defeat this season, now they must do the same again. After not playing well for the whole 90 minutes against Norwich at the weekend, the Dortmund defeat was a reminder that Arsenal have be switched on for the whole game against top teams. With the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United to come soon in the league, and the return match with Dortmund, this result will hopefully sharpen the minds of the players in those matches.
Even though Mikel Arteta was one of Arsenal’s best players on the night, I couldn’t help but feel that Arsenal missed Mathieu Flamini. With the enthusiasm with which Flamini would have charged round the pitch, had he been there I doubt Arsenal would have started so slowly and allowed the German visitors to settle into the game. In the hostile atmosphere in the return leg, Flamini could be invaluable if he’s available to play.
Even more than Flamini though, I think the man Arsenal missed most on Tuesday night was Theo Walcott. With the game becoming stretched, there were times where Ozil and Rosicky were looking into the space on the right, but no one was making the incisive run to expose the full-back. Playing the fluid attacking three behind Giroud is fine against lesser Premier League teams, and can produce quality goals like we saw on Saturday, but against tougher opposition it’s frustrating to not have the players available to open up the game with a burst of pace. Better teams are able to contain the attacking midfield three, meaning Arsenal have less options out wide and end up going through the middle more. Ultimately, with Sagna trying to provide some width near the end, it cost the Gunners as he was upfield when Lewandowski scored the winning goal at the back post.
Given how Arsenal had defended pretty well, it was so frustrating to concede two hugely avoidable goals. The first was a sign of some over confidence from Aaron Ramsey. You don’t want to discourage him from trying things at the moment because most are coming off, but he needs to use his confidence to read the game well, and know when it’s better just to play the ball forward rather than dribble round players near your own goal. Again, it could be good ahead of the bigger games as Ramsey could have got away with it on Saturday against Norwich, but he didn’t get away with it on Tuesday. Hopefully he’ll learn from it and not take such chances again.
The whole team were taking a chance near the end as well, which led to Dortmund’s winning goal. As much as it’s great to see the team desperate to win at home and beat a top European team, given how tight the group is, there’s an argument to say Arsenal shouldn’t have been so gung-ho and get caught on the counter attack. Whilst it’s annoying right now, hopefully the team will take the lessons from Tuesday and not get caught out again.
The result throws the group open, but having seen the way Arsenal did perform in the second half, there can be plenty of optimism that Arsene Wenger’s team can go and win in Dortmund. First, the team have to get back to winning ways against Crystal Palace to get the defeat out the system. On another night, Santi Cazorla would have scored rather than hitting the bar and Robert Lewandowski would have been sent off for his elbow on Koscielny. However these are the fine margins that make the difference at the top level of the game.
It was a frustrating defeat, but it shouldn’t be a disheartening one. So long as the Gunners take the lessons from the match and get a couple of key players back, they can still survive the group of death.