Borussia Dortmund v Arsenal
Signal Iduna Park
Kick off: September 16th, 2014 20.45 PM BST
It’s going to be the seventeenth consecutive season for Arsenal in the Champions’ League Group Stage. The unbelievable streak – second longest of all participants in the Champions’ League 2014-15 – started in 1998-99 with an away match against French side Lens. It ended 1:1 – Marc Overmars scored the first goal for Arsenal in Champions’ League history but Tony Vairelles’ last-minute-equalizer took away the first victory from us. That campaign didn’t end well – we won just one out of three matches played at Wembley (our home venue for the Champions’ League matches) and lost four points in 90th minute – two against Lens and two against Dynamo Kyiv. The Ukrainian side eventually won the group while we had to settle for the third spot.
In the last four seasons we lost in the First Knockout Stage. Each time we had to face strong opponents – Barcelona, AC Milan and Bayern München (twice) respectively.
Since 2011-12 we have regularly faced at least one German club in the draw including our opponents on tonight. Our home record has been poor – since our victory against Borussia in 2011 we have lost four consecutive matches against the Germans at home (Schalke 0:2, Bayern 1:3, Borussia 1:2, Bayern 0:2). On our travels to Germany in the same period of time, however, we have been undefeated.
We are about to face Borussia Dortmund for the fourth time since the introduction of the Champions’ League and for the third time in four seasons. Our first encounter happened in 2002-03. We won the game at Highbury 2:0 (Bergkamp, Ljungberg) but lost the reverse fixture 2:1 with Tomas Rosicky’s brace for the Germans. In 2011-12 we had taken the lead thanks to Van Persie’s opener but a late screamer from Ivan Perišić saved Borussia from defeat.
Last term they won the game at Emirates 2:1 thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s winner. Before that goal, Mkhitaryan gave the lead to Borussia and Giroud scored an equalizer for us. In the reverse fixture, Aaron Ramsey crowned a resilient display from our team by heading the ball home in the middle of the second half. It’s worth noting that we have played a group opener against Borussia on two occasions and lost neither of them.
Our trouble with injuries have been frustrating for years. Out of six senior defenders we have one sidelined with a long-term injury (Debuchy) and the other one is out with a less serious injury but still unavailable for the match against the Bundesliga runners-up. That leaves us in a situation in which Calum Chambers has to be both a starting right full-back and a back-up for our central defenders Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in case either of them gets injured or suspended. Hector Bellerin is a promising lad though but one that should play against, say, Anderlecht. Theo Walcott is still out but our front line is not a problem (touch wood).
However, Borussia could make a few complaints about injuries too. Marco Reus, their best player and one of the best players in Europe, has been injured for a while and it seems their key defender Mats Hummels won’t play against us either. Ilkay Gündogan, one of my favourite midfielders, has been struggling to recover from injuries for over a year, and Nuri Sahin is injured as well. They had a much easier match than we did last weekend though so Jürgen Klopp could rotate players – Mathias Ginter, Sven Bender, Marcel Schmelzer, Ciro Immobile and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had all started on the bench in the last league match against SC Freiburg. We should have fresh blood on the pitch as well though – Tomas Rosicky, Joel Campbell and Lukas Podolski haven’t enjoyed too much playing time this term while Santi Cazorla didn’t feature against Manchester City.
Quality-wise, there are divided opinions on whether Borussia have strengthened their team or not. They lost Robert Lewandowski to Bayern München on a free transfer and it’s a major blow as the Pole is one of the best – if not the best – holding striker in Europe (Zlatan Ibrahimović would probably dispute this). They tried to replace him with quantity – Adrian Ramos signed from Hertha Berlin and Ciro Immobile left Serie A to join the German side. Their biggest reinforcement, however, might be the return of Shinji Kagawa. The Japanese playmaker endured a terrible spell at Manchester United before Klopp rescued him from Van Gaal’s claws.
We have to address our problems with set-pieces as Subotić and Sokratis know how to score from corners. Aubameyang is one the paciest players in the world and that pace might be a problem – Borussia have one of the best transformations from defence to counter-attack. However, we can strike with pace too – nobody can feel safe with Alexis Sánchez, Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain around. Jack Wilshere gave a great performance against Manchester City and we’d like to see more of the same from him. Aaron Ramsey should offer more though – the Welshman was bothered by that stupid injury against Andorra and he might offer another match-winning display at Signal Iduna Park. Mesut Özil might start on the bench after a streak of subdue performances.
Last season Mikel Arteta couldn’t handle the pace and technique of the opponents and was close to receiving the marching orders in Dortmund. The Armenian maestro Henrykh Mkhitarian has already scored a goal against Arsenal and he should be taken care of. Players like Lukasz Piszczek and Kevin Grosskreutz, not to mention Kuba Blaszczykowsky, are not just Scrubble-champions but also players that can score. In fact, the whole Borussia team under Klopp can attack and defend. In my article ahead of the match at Emirates last season I pointed at the Borussia veteran goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller as their weakest link and I’d add Eric Durm to that list even if Durm is a German international.
Borussia haven’t had the best start in the league – they conceded a goal after just nine seconds against Bayer Leverkusen and they lost that match at home (0:2). They have done well in the league since that defeat but Champions’ League is something different.
There are some connections between Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund. Both teams have had to face losing their best players to richer clubs like Bayern, Manchester United, Manchester City and Real Madrid in recent years. This summer Borussia lost Robert Lewandowski to Bayern and Arsenal lost Bacary Sagna to Manchester City, both on a free transfer. That didn’t stop Borussia and Arsenal to beat Bayern and Manchester City respectively in their domestic Supercups at the opening of the season.
Of course, Tomas Rosicky is the biggest connection between the two clubs as The Little Mozart had composed many symphonies in the black and yellow shirt of Borussia Dortmund before joining Arsenal.
We can win the game tonight and we should do that while Reus is unavailable. Some of you might have watched his performance against Real Madrid in the quarterfinals last season. Real won the first leg 3:0 but Borussia came close to a sensational come-back as Reus scored a brace to reduce Real’s aggregate advantage to just one goal. Sadly, Mkhitarian didn’t wear his shooting boots that night so Real escaped from Dortmund to the semifinals and eventually won the illustrious trophy.
I’d say we will beat the Germans 2:1 even though my head suggests that we should be happy with a draw as well. Alexis and Ramsey to give us two-goal-cushion before Aubameyang reduces our lead with a header.
Head to Head
Champions League (CL) 6th Nov 2013 Borussia Dortmund 0 – Arsenal FC 1
Champions League (CL) 22 Oct 2013 Arsenal FC 1 – Borussia Dortmund 2
Champions League (CL) 23 Nov 2012 Arsenal FC 2 – Borussia Dortmund 1
Champions League (CL) 13 Sep 2011 Borussia Dortmund 1 – Arsenal FC 1
Champions League (CL) 30 Oct 2003 Borussia Dortmund 2 – Arsenal FC 1
Chambers Mertesacker Koscielny Gibbs
Arteta (c) Ramsey
Alexis Wilshere Cazorla
Borussia Dortmund 1 v 2 Arsenal