Thursday, 24 October 2013

Post-Dortmund analysis

UEFA Champions League: Group F tablePWDLFAGDPts
1. Arsenal32015326
2. Borussia Dortmund32016336
3. Napoli32014406
4. Marseille300327-50

The group standings make for slightly uncomfortable reading after Tuesday night's home loss to Dortmund. However, it doesn't do to get despondent. Yes, Arsenal must win when Marseille come to town, and we're also now reliant on getting decent away results at either Dortmund's Signal Idun Arena or Napoli's Stadio San Paolo. But although both are pretty formidable grounds, the last time we went to the former we got a creditable 1-1 draw (indeed, we nearly nabbed all three points save for an 88th-minute equaliser from Ivan Perisic). And we generally have a pretty good record in Italy too – that season's dismal performance in Milan notwithstanding. 

This team is much better than last season's vintage, and in my opinion surpasses 2011/12's too. We were also somewhat unlucky to lose the game on Tuesday. Arsenal generally played well, and it was an entertaining game played in a good atmosphere at the Emirates. The home fans were riding high on the team's recent form and responded well to Dortmund's vocal away support.

The Dortmund fans are rightly proud of their team. They are a very good side – without a doubt the best team we've come up against this season. They move the ball very quickly, hold an excellent defensive shape and press effectively. That caused us problems in the first half, when the Gunners struggled to keep possession or find a rhythm.

But in the second half, Arsenal gained the upper hand and, at 1-1, looked the most likely team to go on and win it. Cazorla hit a rasping shot against the bar – two inches lower and we'd probably be celebrating a famous victory. Unfortunately we were caught by a classic counter-attack, which was probably the only chance Dortmund had in the second 45 minutes, but they seized the opportunity courtesy of a precision strike from Lewandowski (who was a bit lucky to be on the pitch after elbowing Koscielny in the face a few minutes earlier).

It was gutting to succumb to such a sucker punch. Cynics might say that Arsenal failed their first stern test, but that is both overly negative and ignores the positives shown on the pitch. Alright, the goals we conceded were perhaps a bit soft, and the second in particular showed some naivety, as Wenger himself put it, although I think he was uncharacteristically hard on his side. At the end of the day, there is always the possibility for a swift counter when one team is pushing for a winner, and that's exactly what happened.

It's hard to direct too much criticism at individual players, as everyone on the pitch put a shift in. Perhaps the steel of Flamini or the pace of Theo might have made the difference, but if either had been fit then they'd both be in the team – it's just bad luck.

The players were obviously disappointed but have promised to learn from the game and bounce back. Jack and Rambo both pointed out that the result didn't match the performance but at the same time acknowledged the team switched off and got punished. Giroud and Cazorla said much the same thing while looking forward to getting back to the winning football we've been playing up to now.

One poor result shouldn't disrupt the optimism around Arsenal's play so far in 2013/14. In that respect, learn the lesson, consign it to history and move on quickly, starting with a victory against managerless Palace this weekend. We always knew that this Champions League group would be a tough assignment, and there is no need to panic yet.

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What do you think, Gooners?