Thursday, 15 September 2011

Precious point looking even better

After tonight’s round of Champions League fixtures Arsenal’s hard-earned point in Dortmund last night looks like an even better result. Manchester United only managed the same against Benfica in Portugal, while City also finished with a point at home to Napoli.

Arsenal’s was by no means a faultless performance on Tuesday, but the final score was encouraging and the game itself showed signs that this team are beginning to play more cohesively. Mertesacker, Koscielny, Sagna and Szczesny all played excellently, as did Alex Song, particularly in the second half. Walcott and Van Persie combined well for the goal, and there was plenty of industry from Gervinho, Benayoun (making his first start – a presumably attack-minded decision from Wenger that surprised me a little) and Arteta. The latter was perhaps stifled creatively by being forced to play a deeper-lying role initially, but when Pat Rice introduced Frimpong for Walcott midway through the second half Arsenal’s new number 8 took the opportunity to get forward and support what there was of an attack. We did, admittedly get rather penned into our own half for sustained periods throughout the match. Arteta had actually done a pretty good job in the face of this prolonged Dortmund pressure, showing his versatility, ability to drive the team and strength in the tackle. But then, this is a player who, after all, spent two seasons with Rangers in the SPL. On top of which, he's Basque. Mikel is beginning to look like a more and more valuable acquisition.

Dortmund were, as expected, dangerous and as well as the wunderkind Götze, Shinji Kagawa and Robert Lewandowski also caused problems. Still, the Gunners somehow managed to fend them off, and no-one could really be blamed for the crisp Perisic strike in the 88th minute. The timing, so close to the final whistle, was frustrating, but most fans would have, I’m sure, taken a point at the start of the match. Arsenal, then, have got what is on paper their trickiest group match out of the way with a precious point, which constitutes a decent start to the European campaign. Ten points ought to guarantee progression to the knockout phase, and although Arsenal probably won’t do it the easy way, given their temerity at the Emirates recently, they should be capable of seeing off Olympiakos and Marseille, our other opponents in Group F. The latter represents a stiffer challenge than the former, as they also managed a 1-0 win in Greece on Tuesday, but there are now reasons to be cautiously optimistic.

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