There is an old joke that dates back to the days of the Cold War. It says that slogan of the Soviet Union’s tourism was: “Come visit us or else we shall visit you!”
If we take a look at our away form since March, that fictional slogan might be – to the lesser extent – applied to Arsenal as well. We have won 14 out of 15 away games played since the defeat against the Spuds and two of the best European teams – Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund – have been defeated at their own soil during that amazing streak as well.
Our defensive line has profited from our more compact type of defense, Olivier Giroud is our first line of the defense, Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey are screening the back four, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are mopping whatever passes the two defensive lines ahead of them and, if they don’t, Wojciech Szczesny will demonstrate his safe hands.
The full-backs have been an important part of that story. In our victory against Bayern in March, Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs gave excellent performances to neutralize the most powerful weapon of the Bavarians. Against Borussia Dortmund, Sagna and, to the lesser extent, Gibbs made life for both central defenders and Szczesny much easier. There is another thing that underlines their importance – we lost both home matches against the German giants and on both occasions we were punished via the flanks.
Of course, there is no way that any story related to our success can go without mentioning the influence of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny’s partnership. The BFG’s positioning, anticipation and organizing skills have been instrumental for the shape of our defense while Koscielny’s sharpness and pace have covered for the German’s lack of it. If Borussia Dortmund are indeed heavy metal as their brilliant manager Jürgen Klopp said, then it was The Kosacker Machine – the one that has shredded most of the attackers since March into pieces – that took good care of our opponents forwards.
The victory we got in Dortmund returned us to the driving seat in our group. If we beat Marseille away and Borussia fail to beat Napoli at home, we will secure progression to the Knockout Stage with one game to spare. That would be an ideal scenario, especially since we have to visit Naples. If Borussia win and we beat Marseille, a minimum requirement – depending on the margin of Borussia’s victory – we must defeat Napoli away.
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Of course, it would be the best for us if we manage to keep our top spot in the group so we can get an easier opponent in the Knockout Stage. Second place in the Group Stage guarantees a hell of a ride in the First Knockout Stage as Bayern München, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid are all on their way to winning their respective groups.
Jürgen Klopp said that Arsenal can win the Champions’ League if we avoid Bayern on that route. I would add that I would like to skip all aforementioned teams as long as possible. If we have to face and beat one of them in the Champions’ League Final – let it be that way!