Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Arsenal: Massive Defensive Performance

Say what you like about the occasionally frightening midfield dominance of the German champions, the gut punch of the late equalizing goal or the continued struggles of guys like Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott.

I am something beyond proud of this team today.

I again missed the first 15 minutes or so in the process of acquiring lunch (the 105-minute one I cheekily took in order to watch this one, that is). The halftime show told me that during that time, each side had chances to get a devastating early goal - Gervinho made a horrific mess out of a glorious chance when in alone on Roman Wiedenfeller, while good work from the wonderful Mario Gotze left Roman Lewandowski in alone on his countryman Wojciech Szczesny. Lewandowski rounded him, but Bacary Sagna was there to clear brilliantly off the line.

So, a boring start to the match then, eh?

Despite the somewhat ropey start, the Arsenal backline came into the game after that opening quarter-hour, and were absolutely immense for the rest of the match. Per Mertesacker's size, ability to read the game and first-hand knowledge of these opponents was obviously a big factor. Laurent Koscielny was fantastic yet again in his role of sweeping up ahead of the big German, and made some critical blocks and tackles throughout the match. Sagna helped lock down the right wing, and was once again quietly brilliant.

Honestly, this was the best Arsenal defensive performance in a long, long time.

The Bundesliga champions poured through the Westfalonstadion midfield in waves of yellow and black. Arsenal soaked up the pressure in a manner quite like shit northern sides do to us, and slowly began to find counterattacking opportunities. Robin van Persie saw a decent effort beat Weidenfeller's dive only to find the side netting, but his best was yet to come. A few minutes later, Theo Walcott made his one contribution to the match by picking out a lovely through-ball to the Dutch master. Weidenfeller came out, but had no answer for van Persie's ferocious shot (chocolate leg, to boot!). It nestled beautifully into the near corner, 1-0 to the Arsenal.

In a game I expected us to lose (and possibly lose badly), Arsenal had taken the home side's best shots - in a frighteningly intimidating atmosphere no less - and were ahead at halftime.

Photo: The Guardian

It was obvious that Dortmund would redouble their efforts after the interval, and indeed their energy and industry were tinged with a bit more focus in the second half. If they were threatening in the early exchanges, they were like an end-stage video game boss who had taken on their second, more dangerous form over the next 45.

My god, it was scary to watch at times.

But still, the Arsenal held. Really, how old-school was this? On and on they attacked, on and on Arsenal repelled them. If the defense failed, the colossal Szczesny was there to sweep up after them.

As good as Arsenal were on the defensive end of things, they were increasingly out of the running offensively. A bit of panic seemed to set in as Dortmund pressed them incessantly. Walcott offered nothing after his assist, and Gervinho looked off the pace and bereft of ideas (other than dribbling into a cul-de-sac of 3 or 4 defenders on several occasions, that is). In the Ivorian's case though, it's understandable as he hasn't seen much in the way of match action lately.

That said, I think it was a deliberate game plan for the midfield to stay relatively at home, especially once Dortmund's prowess in the center of the park was established. Once again, Yossi Benayoun put in a Ray Parlour-esque shift defensively. He's one who I'm curious to see what he can offer offensively once he is shorn of some of his winger-harrying responsibilities, but in the meantime he did what was needed and is quickly starting to win me over. As you may recall, I HATED that signing at the time but it increasingly looks like I have to put that in the already-overflowing "I was Talking Bollocks" file. As for Mikel Arteta, he held the ball nicely in the middle at times and also drew some timely fouls (mainly to let the defense breathe a bit and force Dortmund to bring men back somewhat).

Still, the Germans were bossing the middle to a worrying extent. So, Walcott was withdrawn for Emmanuel Frimpong, and the whole team withdrew to a more narrow formation. It didn't entirely stem the tide, but Frimpong did his bit and life became at least a little more difficult for the waves of yellow attackers. Time ticked on, and some fresh legs were introduced with five minutes in normal time - Marouane Chamakh on for RVP, Andre Santos making his debut in place of Gervinho.

Just as it looked like the Arsenal would somehow escape with all three points, the home side got an equalizer that they probably deserved...albeit in sickening circumstances.

Don't let anyone tell you different - it was not bad defending that caused the goal. Honestly, it's just one of those things. Another Dortmund cross was cleared out well by Mertesacker, and the ball came out to substitute Ivan Perisic just outside the penalty area. On the full volley, he got ALL of it and fired an unstoppable shot into the top corner of the net. Poor Szczesny never moved, not that it mattered. No one on earth was saving that, and honestly, that guy can hit that shot 50 times and 49 of them would go over the bar and into low Earth orbit.

Saturday, the guy misses one he should score 49 times out of 50. I say it a lot, but swings and roundabouts.

The bottom line is, it's a fucking joke that Borussia Dortmund were a 4-seed. Make no mistake, this is the hardest game on paper in the group stage, and our defense and goalkeeper (along with RVP) earned us a point. We were less than 5 minutes away from getting all three. These guys are no mugs, and the return match at the Emirates is going to be nearly as tough, I promise you that. Still, I think we should be ecstatic at the fight and the determination shown by the Gunners today.

It was a brilliant point in difficult circumstances. This was a test of the new lads, and of the overall gelling of the squad. As far as I'm concerned, it was a test passed with flying colors.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8, Gibbs 6, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 8 (MOTM), Sagna 7, Gervinho 5 (Santos N/A), Benayoun 7, Song 8, Arteta 7, Walcott 6 (Frimpong 7), van Persie 7 (Chamakh N/A)