Arsenal produced a fine, mature display and were rewarded with a win over an unconvincing Dortmund side on a foggy London night. The Gunners have now qualified for the second round of the Champions League for the 15th consecutive time after being inspired by two great goals from Sanogo and Sanchez, deepening the misery of Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Both sides had a point to prove after disappointing results this weekend with the Gunners losing 2-1 at home to Manchester United, while Dortmund came off a 2-2 draw with Bundesliga newcomers Paderborn, after throwing away a two goal lead. While Arsenal has been under fire recently for their lack of defensive discipline and for not being able to win games they have dominated, today they brushed those critics aside by keeping at bay a dangerous Dortmund side, who themselves are having a nightmare start to the season sitting two points off the bottom of the Bundesliga, but were entering this match at the top of group D with full points and a spot in the second round.
The pressure was on Arsene Wengers’ men to bounce back from their weekend league defeat against Manchester United and they have done so in some style. Some fans were still looking for their seats and the Emirates Stadium already exploded in joy as Sanogo controlled a throw-in from Chambers in the Dortmund box, exchanged a wonderful one two with Santi Cazorla, evading both the offside trap and defender Matthias Ginter and coolly slotting through the legs of the advancing Weidenfeller. What took Arsenal 98 minutes on the weekend took them just 73 seconds today. This was a much needed goal for the Gunners confidence and there was a sense of relief from all the players as they celebrated Sanogos’ first goal in a red shirt.
The Frenchman could have doubled his tally for the night just six minutes later when Sanchez feeded him with a glorious through ball past Ginter which left Sanogo sprinting alone on goal from the right side, but instead of pulling the trigger while alone, he inexplicably stopped allowing the young defender to catch up and get a good block on the shot. The hosts have shown their dangerous side when Piszczeks’’ low cross flew through the six yard box just escaping the sliding Immobile at the far post. After early Arsenal domination, the match reached a balanced period when Arsenal were more happy to sit and allow the Germans to knock the ball within respectable distance of their goal and charging forward every time they won the ball back. Two penalty claims by Dortmund players were both rightfully waved away by the referee as the hosts grew into the game. Their best chance of the first half came after 38 minutes with a deep cross by Gundogan being nodded down by Piszczek straight into the path of Mkhitaryan who was denied by a great stop by Martinez.
Dortmund players started the second half with more possession but used it to no effect as Arsenal worked well defensively and waited for any opportunity to launch a quick counter attack. After one of such counter attacks, Sanchez sent a pile driver greeting to Weidenfeller who was forced into a strong stop at his left post. Just minutes later, Oxlade-Chamberlain saw his half volleyed shot crash off the crossbar with Weidenfeller the spectator. The Gunners did not have to regret those wasted chances as minutes later, Cazorla found Sanchez on the left flank, he put the ball on his right foot and released a splendid inch perfect curling shot to the bottom corner of the far post past the stretching goalkeeper. That takes Sanchez to 13 goals this season already, an impressive tally for the Chilean star.
In the remainder of the match, it was visible how much Arsenal tried to avoid a similar fate as that suffered at the hands of Anderlecht or Swansea earlier this month as the hole team tightened up defensively and saw out rest of the game, knowing a victory will clinch them a spot in the final 16 and leave them with an opportunity of topping group D, if Dortmund lose to Anderlecht and the Gunners beat Galatasaray in Istanbul. The very last chance fell to Adrian Ramos after a cross from Piszczek was deflected off the arm of Kagawa – by what was a perfect basketball behind the back pass – into the Colombians path and another good reflexive stop by Martinez ensured the Gunners left the game with three points and a clean sheet. The bad news for Arsenal will be the injuries to Arteta and the goalscorer Sanogo. The good news for Dortmund is that they can still finish top of Group D and ‘avoid a tough fixture’ in the Round 16.
Arsene Wenger will be impressed with his side’s performance tonight, especially in terms of discipline, which is an area in which the Gunners needed great improvement. It was an encouraging sign to keep a clean sheet against a side such as Dortmund, who despite having the better of possession, never quite looked like scoring throughout the game, let alone winning. Credit for that goes to the Gunners central midfield pair of Ramsey and Arteta. Their combined heat map suggests they have been in the right area to break up Dortmund’s play in the middle of the park and altogether contributed with 7 tackles and 4 fouls in the middle of the park. They were a solid base that released Sanchez, Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain to deadly counter attacks. Arsenal have shown that they can control and more importantly win games they do not necessarily dominate and that they are capable of sitting and defending as a team and do not necessarily commit everyone forward leaving the back four unprotected. Nevertheless, there were still some gaps which Dortmund found on a few occasions in this defence and with a late injury to Arteta, the Gunners desperately need to bring in some defensive quality come January. Another area in which Arsenal showed some improvement was exploiting the wide areas. Chambers and Oxlade-Chamberlain were threats down the right flank with the first goal coming from this area. Gibbs and Sanchez were the menace on the left. Arsenal have been blamed far too often for playing too narrow in the final third and not finding gaps behind the defence in the wide areas, which today they at least tried to do. The question is, can the Gunners build on this performance? Let’s hope they can, for the sake of English teams in the Champions League and for the quality of the Premier League.