Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Gunners secure top spot with creditable win over Dortmund

UEFA Champions League: Group F tablePWDLFAGDPts
1. Arsenal532063311
2. Marseille52124227
3. Olympiacos52035506
4. Borussia Dortmund511349-54

The Group F table now looks very satisfying indeed, all the more so given Olympiacos' unexpected 1-0 win over Marseille at the Stade Velodrome tonight. Arsenal did the job, and in addition the Greek victory guarantees the Gunners top spot in the group – a huge bonus that means we cannot now be caught, which will in turn give Arsene Wenger a valuable opportunity to rest key players in the dead rubber in Piraeus on December 6.

Such a relatively comfortable progression is all the more impressive in comparison to the heavy weather that both Manchester clubs are making of their qualification campaigns. City will be very fortunate to get through Group A after their defeat to Napoli last night, while Manchester United will be reliant on a win over Basel to qualify from Group C. Chelsea, meanwhile, went down 2-1 in Germany against Bayer Leverkusen, which also means that Group E is finely poised, and the Blues now need a result in their home tie against Valencia (who walloped Genk 7-0 tonight). At this stage, then, the Gunners have been the best performers of all the English clubs in Europe this season – and a group featuring both the Ligue 1 runners-up and the German champions cannot be dismissed as 'easy'. The consistency that the manager has talked about, in terms of 14 consecutive seasons of Champions League football, certainly seems to have stood us in good stead so far in this year's competition. It's the sort of experience, perhaps, that a club like Manchester City simply does not have, despite the multi-millions at their disposal. Simply buying a squad of players with CL experience is not quite the same thing...

Arsenal can also draw positives from the performance at the Emirates, which was generally composed, and the Gunners stayed in control for most of the game. Admittedly, it should have been a 2-0 victory, but for a sloppy goal conceded in stoppage time – for which, it has to be said, the substitute Djourou was primarily culpable. However, the starting back four of Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Santos played well, and save for a couple of nervy moments in the first half and right at the start of the second, they were pretty solid. In front of them Alex Song played what is still known in Islington as 'an absolute blinder', and it was his good work that saved Arsenal on a couple of occasions and also set up van Persie's first goal. The Dutchman deserved the highest praise too – he was again unplayable, and both goals were superbly taken. His movement throughout the ninety minutes was supreme, as he dropped deep, made intelligent diagonal runs from both flanks, darted into the box between the centre-halves, and consistently found space for himself.

A word also for Abou Diaby, who spent most of the second half warming up on the touchlines, while being incessantly applauded by the watching Gooners. In response he bounced around and did lots of star-jumps, presumably in an attempt to show off his rock-solid ankles. He was rewarded with a brief second-half cameo, and most fans were still clapping as he trotted onto the pitch when van Persie glanced in our second goal on 86 minutes, from an Arteta corner and a Vermaelen flick. Abou might struggle to break into a midfield that seems to be working very well – again the Song-Arteta-Ramsey axis was impressive – particularly with Wilshere's anticipated return in the New Year, but nevertheless it is great to have him fit again. This is a player, after all, who was once heralded as the 'new Vieira'.

In fact, there was not a player in the starting line-up tonight who disappointed. Walcott and Gervinho were both full of endeavour and kept the Dortmund full-backs occupied, and Szczesny was again a safe pair of hands – and he was clearly annoyed not to have managed a clean sheet. The underused Yossi Benayoun was again introduced as a substitute, and put in a good stint. Only Johan Djourou perhaps let himself down – but coming on as a defender late in a game is always a difficult task.

The fact that we were able to contain Dortmund so easily was partly attributable to the fact that coach Jurgen Klopp was forced to make two first-half changes – including the loss of the prodigiously talented Mario Gotze, who departed, presumably injured, although he walked off, after about half an hour. Rumours abound that Arsenal are interested in bringing him to the club, and although we didn't get to see much of him tonight (probably for the best, given his reputation) his creativity and playmaking ability, as well as his goals, would undoubtedly be a good foil for our mercurial RvP, and would also alleviate some of the pressure that the Dutchman is under. The worrying part of his sparkling form is that without him, there is an increasing suspicion that Arsenal would be in big trouble – the difference he made tonight, compared to Park's industrious but ineffective performance against Marseille, for example, is striking (no pun intended).

Onwards and upwards then; Champions League qualification is in the bag, so now let's keep our fingers crossed for a good draw in the next stage, and focus once again on the Premier League, where our position - although dramatically improved from a few weeks ago - is not quite so secure. We are counting on others to drop points in domestic terms, but if we can do our bit, then hopefully - as we've seen in Group F - the rest will take care of itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment

What do you think, Gooners?