Arsenal took control of the Group of Death with an excellent win in Dortmund, but it was the manner of victory that pleased me more than anything. We didn’t play scintillating football, but we played a smart game to suit the circumstances and that is a sign of a maturing team.
We played a very cagey, patient game, keeping our shape well to blunt Dortmund’s attacking threat. This meant we didn’t even register a shot in the first half, but that’s ok, the gameplan was first and foremost to keep them out and it was working. In fact the home side only had one really good chance but Mkhitaryan shot wide with just Szczesny to beat.
Dortmund stepped it up a level at the start of the second half and had two efforts correctly ruled out for offside before Reus miskicked from six yards as the ball flashed dangerously across our area. Then, on the hour mark, we stunned the Germans with a goal out of nothing. Rosicky found Ozil out wide and his cross was intelligently headed into Ramsey’s path by Giroud. The Welshman simply doesn’t miss these days and his brave header gave us an unlikely lead.
Just like on Saturday against Liverpool, the opening goal gave us a huge lift and suddenly we were by far the better side. Ramsey could’ve had another when his volley was saved, Giroud had a scrambled effort cleared off the line and then Mertesacker was centimetres away as he launched himself full length at Cazorla’s cross. Shame the German isn’t a bit taller.
Ramsey scores his 87th goal of the season
Dortmund looked stunned but soon came back into it, although they couldn’t create anything to really trouble Szczesny and were relying on penalty appeals. We held on for a massive win that gives us a great chance of qualifying if we beat Marseille at home in the next gameweek.
I have seen us blow good sides away with our superior firepower (Napoli last month, Milan at home two seasons ago) but I can’t remember us producing a ‘Mourinho-esque’ performance to nick an away victory from a team as good as Dortmund. It is this which excites me and gives me great hope for the future, because an attacking side like Arsenal needs to adapt its game against class opposition sometimes and win ugly (something we haven’t really managed in the last few years). It’s another string to our bow I didn’t realise we had.
Only two weeks ago we were called naive by Wenger himself as we threw away a point at home to Dortmund. Questions were asked of our maturity levels and whether we could get anything out of tonight’s encounter. Well, the question has been answered.
In fact this season has been a series of questions that Wenger and Arsenal seem to find the answers for. After the early blip against Aston Villa, many people (myself included) wondered if we would even qualify for the Champions League. The question was answered emphatically as a poor Fenerbahce were comprehensively beaten. But could we recover our league form? Seven wins and a draw in the league put us top of the table. But apart from Spurs we hadn’t played anybody decent yet, could we do it against the top sides? Liverpool were duly outplayed at the Emirates. Ah, but could we step it up again and get a result in Dortmund? Again, Wenger’s men came up with the goods.
I think it’s now clear our run of good form since the Villa defeat is not a blip — we’ve actually developed into a well-organised, disciplined and mature team which Wenger deserves credit for. He has looked at our weaknesses from last season, both in terms of tactics, attitude and personnel, and addressed most of them.
The next hurdle is at Old Trafford on Sunday. Rooney has been shooting his mouth off, saying we aren’t title contenders because we always fall away by February or March. To be fair to the chav, he has a point. We may well pass the test on Sunday (I am increasingly confident we can win there) but the real test will be maintaining it throughout the season now.
It’s yet another question being asked of us — let’s hope we can continue to answer in the affirmative.
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