Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Borussia Dortmund v Arsenal – Preview

Arsenal face a tough test tonight against the Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund in the enormous Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund. Germany’s biggest stadium, it holds 80,720 – which is reduced to 65,718 for international matches due to the all-seater requirement. Still, that dwarfs even the Emirates, and the atmosphere is likely to be fearsome.

Borussia Dortmund play good football and this game perhaps represents the sternest test in the group for the Gunners. The Germans' defence is very good, conceding just eight goals at home throughout the whole of 2010/11, and despite a relatively poor start to the 2011/12 Bundesliga season the team has quality – not least in the form of Mario Götze, a talented 19-year-old midfielder who is already a Germany international (9 senior appearances, 2 goals) and one of the spearheads of the Dortmund attack. Our very own Mr Wenger was reportedly – and perhaps predictably – very interested in young Mario during the transfer window, even attempting a rumoured deadline-day bid. Well, we missed out, and let’s hope that does not come back to haunt us.

Despite an increasingly haggard appearance and some rather odd comments about the ‘hell’ that is football management recently, Arsene seems in fairly good spirits ahead of tonight’s game (either that or just resigned to his fate). He shouldn’t be – he is of course banned from the touchline again, but perhaps he sees this as welcome respite from media glare, and a rare opportunity to blame Pat Rice if it all goes wrong. He also made a barbed comment on the pedants at UEFA, while discounting a suggestion that he might attempt a Mourinho-style laundry-basket dressing room entrance (he’s ‘too tall’ for that, apparently): ‘I will now send my vibes and hope they will not be detected by UEFA. I will give my team-talk at the hotel before we go to the game. When I arrive at the stadium, I cannot go to the dressing room. I don’t think I will be man-marked. I have to leave it to Pat Rice. We will go through all the situations before the game. Pat will make the right decisions. For once, I will have somebody else to blame!’

Team news is mixed – on the plus side Gervinho and Alex Song are both now eligible (or maybe UEFA don’t mind if you slap and stamp all over Joey Barton), but Aaron Ramsey and Rosicky are both out. The young Welshman injured himself in training yesterday, while the Czech is still suffering from the knock he picked up on international duty during the interlull. This is a real shame – I think the chance to play against his former club would have been an excellent motivator for Tomas, who does sometimes look as though he’s in need of one. It will be interesting to see who plays in midfield, with possibly Frimpong and Song both starting to help protect the defence, and – probably – Arteta, Walcott and Gervinho supporting RvP up top. It’s possible that Arshavin could feature in favour of Theo, but Park and Yossi are both likely to be on the bench along with Chamakh to complete the attacking options in reserve.

Arsenal will have to defend well, compete in the midfield and look to create or counter quickly, depending on whether Arsene elects to field pace (Walcott) over artistry (Arshavin). Quality performances are required from Mertesacker, Song/Frimpong, Arteta and Walcott (or Arshavin), and RvP will also need to bring his shooting boots to Germany – but ultimately the whole team will have to be on top of their game tonight. For Arteta, who many will now see as Arsenal’s key creative outlet, this represents a chance to demonstrate his abilities on the big stage – he said he came to the Gunners for Champions League football, and here it is. I’m sure he’ll be relishing the challenge – the last time he played in the Champions League with Everton was back in 2005, when they were torpedoed in a qualifying stage tie by the yellow submarine, Villarreal. That’s a long time away from the Champions League and I hope he takes on die Schwarzgelben in earnest.

It should be a more open game than a typical Champions League group phase encounter, with the atmosphere to match, as both teams like to attack, but I just hope Arsenal approach the game sensibly. That probably means playing Gibbs over Andre Santos at left-back, for example. Not a very insightful analysis, I know, but this is a big task indeed and on current form an away draw would be a very good result. But Arsenal have already shown they have quality in Europe and can get results under pressure – so come on Gunners…

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