There comes a point in a game when players and fans alike know if this will be their day or not. The majority of the Arsenal fans and staff went into the BvB Stadium knowing that on paper, this will be the most testing of the away fixtures in the group stages.
It is difficult to not envy the atmosphere the 80,000 Dortmund fans created on Tuesday night. This is a crowd that can equal intimidating match atmospheres witnessed in Turkey and even released a video to welcome the Arsenal to Westfalenstadion. Any team travelling into Dotmund’s arena could almost liken the surrounding to walking into a dragon’s lair.
When Neven Subotic found the ball at his feet 6 yards from goal and shaped up to shoot, it was as if time almost stood still for a moment as everyone watched in anticipation. It was like witnessing a ‘Matrix’ movie when the evil Agent Smith fires his weapons while you witness the ripple effect of every bullet in slow motion fly towards Mr. Anderson who in turn dodges the attacks and appears unscathed, much to the shock and dismay of the villain.
The hero in Dortmund was the young Polish Keeper Wojiech Szczesny who rather than dodge the shot threw himself on the way and emerged from the crowd of players with the ball safely in his grasp. It was a moment that hinted Arsenal will not leave north-west Germany empty handed, least not without a fight!
Jurgen Klopp, the man in charge of ‘The Borussians’ has been tipped to become one of the best managers of his generation. Wenger’s pre-match praise for Klopp had hints of jealousy towards a man who at the age of 44 has put together a fantastic team that ran away with the Bundesliga title last season. This is a team that was playing with utmost confidence and flair.
If there is a manager in Europe that does not envy some of the players at Klopp’s disposal, they would be lying. The centre back pairing of Subotic and Hummels is solid and Mario Gotze showed why Arsenal were ready to spend €40m for his services at the age of 19. Unfortunately for Arsenal, Gotze’s parents had decided he was too young to leave Dortmund.
Both sides missed key players in the tie. Paraguayan striker Lucas Barrios and Arsenal’s midfielder Jack Wilshere and defender Vermaelenwere both nursing injuries. And despite the missing players, the quality of the game did not fall. Chances were created by both sides but it was a case of being clinical and when Kehl was dispossessed in his own half by van Persie, the Dutchman finished off the move with a sublime shot past the Dortmund keeper Weidenfeller to give Arsenal the lead.
It took a wonder goal on the 88th minute for Dortmund to salvage a point at home but at the final whistle, the air punch celebration from Wenger in the stands told its own story. Arsenal know at home they can play a more attacking game in the return fixture at home and it was crucial to avoid going home empty handed against such a tough opposition.
The Gunners performed well despite the sickening ban posed on the manager. Wenger, who had to stay behind after final whistle in case he ran to the touchline to give game-changing tactics to his team, was marshalled away by 2 UEFA prison guards. You can almost the match the scene to a serial killer on death row being taken to meet his family for the last time as Wenger was finally allowed to meet his players. No action has yet been taken against Bulgaria for the racist chants towards England’s players but UEFA seem to have got their priorities right by imposing Wenger’s touchline ban.
Manager for the day Pat Rice said there was a “buzz” in the dressing room after the uncertainty in recent times. There is now a sense of unity within the squad. Van Persie is proving to be a real leader on and off the pitch, while Koscielny and Song looked very assured alongside Sagna who has become an ever present in the current squad.
Despite losing the creativity of Fabregas and Nasri, the performance in Dortmund was a message that this team Arsenal was ready to fight tooth and nail to be counted. They are keen to silence the doubters, but more importantly they are working together as a unit for a common purpose rather than the individual glory some players were seeking last season.
Undoubtedly, the Gunners still need a very creative player in January, perhaps in the stature of Hazard or Gotze. For the moment however, Arsenal look to have hit the ground running.