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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

That makes it a bit difficult

Shouldn't have been on the pitch

We were caught by the classic sucker-punch last night. After a first-half in which we weren’t at the races for the opening 40 minutes we had dominated the game after half-time. Neither side, despite their respective superiority in either half, really created a great deal. That being the case a draw would have been more than fair to both teams. To get ourselves done in the way we did is frustrating, but not especially disheartening.
For some reason Arsenal didn’t get started when the game kicked off. Dortmund were sharper and quicker to the ball. Our midfield seemed especially lacklustre, with the exception of the outstanding Mikel Arteta who really held us together. When we did get the ball the players seemed incapable of putting a pass or two together. Fancy flicks weren’t coming off, which wasn’t surprising in light of Dortmund’s impressive closing down – they were reminiscent of Barcelona in the first-half when not in possession.
I suppose there is no doubt that the sustained Dortmund pressure on the ball was a root cause of their first goal. However, that does not excuse what Aaron Ramsey did to present them with the chance. You might remember that he did exactly the same thing at Marseille, which also cost us a goal. I don’t know what goes through the minds of players in moments like that. Why would you even consider trying to dribble the ball out of your penalty area? I know that Ramsey is full of confidence at the moment but it was just ridiculous play. Rambo’s whole performance last night was poor, and was as bad as any he produced last year when he was struggling. You can’t afford to give a goal start to a top team like Dortmund.
With Arteta playing a one man role in midfield we had Olivier Giroud absolutely dominating Hummels and Subotic up front. Giroud was fantastic again as he won every header (until he was out on his feet with about 15 minutes to go) and chased down what looked like lost causes. It was one of those that finally sparked us in to life as he caused Hummels to dive in and get booked. A few minutes later he chased down again to set up the chance for Rosicky that was cleared off the line. When he finally got his goal it was thoroughly deserved. Giroud is becoming more and more important in this Arsenal side and he has been hugely impressive all season.
The second-half, I felt, was Arsenal’s all the way. We played some decent stuff and the introduction of Cazorla gave us an extra threat. Tomas Rosicky moved central and Ozil wide right. Surprisingly this brought Ozil in to the game for the first time (he was poor on the night). We hit the bar and looked like we were right on top of the game. Then we got caught out while going for the winning goal. Arsene Wenger said we were “naïve” and made comment that “if we can’t win the game we must make sure not to lose it”. I couldn’t agree more, but this message was clearly not being conveyed from the bench. Shortly before Dortmund’s winner we had a free-kick on the halfway line. Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna went and stood close to the edge of Dortmund’s penalty area, leaving only Mertesacker and Koscielny back. Given that Arsene feels we should have been a bit more cautious I would have to question why he or Steve Bould were not out on the touchline imploring one of the full-backs to sit back alongside their centre-halves. It’s all very well stating the obvious after the game, but why were the players not being instructed by the bench?
As I said at the top of this piece we were caught out having gone for the big haymaker late on. That’s football sometimes, but it has happened to us fairly frequently. As with Ramsey trying to dribble out from the back, we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes quickly enough and this is to our detriment too often. Having said all of that Lewandowski should not have been on the pitch to score the goal. I had a perfect view of his elbow on Koscielny and it was absolutely blatant. I’ve been told that Ian Wright and Lee Dixon didn’t think it was deliberate, such was their view on the ITV coverage. All I can say is that they were on the other side of the ground and, perhaps, the TV pictures don’t capture the way in which Lewandowski sized up his target. As I said, I had a clear view and it was a definite red card. The referee produced a yellow card so the question needs to be asked why that was. If the officials have seen it then it is a red card. There is no question. What exactly was he booked for? Either the referee should have done nothing or he should have sent off the Dortmund striker. There is no justifiable middle ground. I would also like to see the disallowed goal we had in the second-half again. From my seat I couldn’t see anything, but I’ve not seen anyone making a controversy out of it. I can only assume the referee must have got that one right, but given that he got a great deal wrong on both sides throughout the game I have to be sceptical.
Of course the defeat is disappointing as it ends our really great run. It also puts us under real pressure in the Champions League – the threat of Thursday night football is very real once again. I have no doubt that the press and pundits will point to us losing when we came up against a top side, and all that nonsense. I’m not having any of that, but we must make sure we bounce back on Saturday as we have a crucial spell coming up against the other big clubs, as well as away trips to Dortmund and Napoli. A draw in both games with Dortmund would have been fantastic. Now we definitely have to get something from the trip to Germany. I was reminded late last night, however, that we won in Munich having lost to them at home. A win in Dortmund is far from beyond us, but the return of Flamini and an injection of Walcott pace might be required.
One final thing to mention from last night is the Dortmund fans. I met a number of them as they were arriving at the airport yesterday and they were all fairly confident. They were also very nice people. In the stadium they create possibly the best spectacle you will witness. You could actually spend an entire game just watching the supporters going through their full repertoire. I was annoyed that Arsenal allowed them to bring their drums in to the ground, as they provide the rhythm that gets their songs going in a constant wall of noise. However, it should perhaps be a privilege to be in a stadium and witness their support. There can’t be many groups of fans in Europe who are noisier and more supportive of their team than Borussia Dortmund.

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