Arsenal 2-1 Borussia Dortmund: Group Stage Mission Accomplished

This one is a bit difficult for me to write, as the memory of the match has gone a bit hazy. I'm in the midst of a period in which I slept for 13 hours, rolled out of bed to go to the Blind Pig, then bolted awake at 4 AM this morning with no sleep forthcoming. Mainly, I remember showing up 15 minutes late, the three goals, and a lovely chicken parm with pasta that the Pig served up.

Admittedly, that doesn't tell you very much, so let's try again.

As mentioned, I missed the first quarter of an hour as going out to watch it was very much a last-second decision (no Fox Soccer Plus at home). I was informed that Dortmund had the better of the early going, willed on by their legions of yellow-clad supporters (this isn't really the time or the place, but at some point I'll rant about the home support). Wojceich Szczesny was called into early action apparently, but nothing too life-threatening.

Arsenal recovered from the early onslaught and made some sallies upfield of their own. Unfortunately for the visitors, there was a freak 10-minute passage of play in which Sven Bender and Mario Gotze both had to be substituted due to injury after fairly innocuous challenges. Given the intensity of their pressing game, Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp was left with the choice of either abandoning that gameplan to keep his guys as fresh as possible for the latter stages, or keep going with it and hope they got the lead before they tired.

They stayed with it, but without their main playmaker and their holding midfielder, they were on a hiding to nothing from that point. That, more than anything Arsenal did, changed the complexion of the match as the second half began.

As for the rest of the first half, there isn't much to tell. Robin van Persie, his threat always simmering just below the surface of the match, was victimized several times by the Dortmund offside trap. Gervinho, full of inventiveness early in a move, continued his putrid form when it came to the decisive moment. Seriously, the man's first touch makes Nicklas Bendtner look like Leo Messi. On the other wing, Theo Walcott kept his opposing winger and fullback honest without ever threatening the Dortmund goal.

In fact, Schwarzgelben (yes, I got that from Wikipedia...shut up) keeper Roman Weidenfeller barely had a thing to do in the first half. You may consider it foreshadowing when I say that I can sympathize from personal experience with going a half and change with nothing to do, then having to deal with a good shot out of nowhere.

That was yet to come though, as the first half saw the two sides largely cancel each other out. Dortmund had a 6-1 shot advantage at the time, but none of theirs came close to beating our wonder Pole in Goal. The game wasn't really that one-sided, and I felt fairly confident going into the second half.

It turns out that confidence was well-founded - four minutes into the second half, Arsenal had the lead.

The move started with Alex Song in midfield. I don't remember how he got it, but given his general excellence in breaking up Dortmund moves throughout the match, it stands to reason that he probably won the ball from one of their lot. Uncharacteristically, he cut outside to the wing, beating one defender. Reaching the outside of the penalty area by the end-line, he was closed down by Sebastian Kehl and Lukasz Piszczek. Beyond uncharacteristically, Song shredded both defenders with an impossibly-deft dribble involving at least three feints before plowing right through the middle - almost like an NFL running back hammering his way through the defensive line. His cross was a little high for van Persie, but the Dutch maestro arched his head back enough to get under the ball, sending his header downward.

Honestly, a solid keeper like Weidenfeller probably should have saved it. But, remember what I was saying before about a cold goalie all of a sudden having to make a big save? As it happened, he got down to get a hand on it, but could only help it into the net. Arsenal now had the momentum, and the visitors were left with tiring legs and one substitution remaining.

The lead could have been doubled a few minutes later as RVP's brilliant defense-splitting pass was run onto by Gervinho. He was in alone with just Weidenfeller to beat, but he took too many touches and allowed the defense to come back in to break it up.

I wonder why it is that we have so many attacking players completely bereft of confidence - Gervinho, Chamakh, Arshavin - when ostensibly the pressure should be off with RVP scoring for fun. Answers on a postcard, please (or in the comments below - we do encourage that sort of thing, you know).

Speaking of which, Gervinho had an almost instant replay of that chance in the 60th minute, and again his indecision allowed a defender to recover enough to tackle it away. Sort it out, mate.

On the other hand, Walcott quietly had a good game, showing some more life in the second half than he had in the first. He copped a booking from referee Frank De Bleeckere (who had a strange performance in his last-ever European fixture) for some verbals with one of their guys, but it was nice to see him stand up for himself.

The half wore on, and as time started to trickle down, Arsene Wenger made two substitutions. One - Yossi Benayoun for Gervinho - was an act of mercy. The other was downright baffling, as the solid Laurent Koscielny was replaced with Johan Djourou. Maybe the thinking was to have more height to defend any set pieces that may come along, but given the Swiss man's recent struggles it's not a move I would have made.

Yep, that's foreshadowing again.

The last substitution was made with five minutes left, and hang onto your hats because apparently Abou Diaby is still alive! Somehow, he made it out onto the pitch without shattering a bone or tearing a hamstring. Well done, Abou! Well done!

Perhaps he was a good luck charm though, as RVP struck again the minute after. It was a bog-standard corner kick, the sort that normally we shouldn't even bother taking. Thomas Vermaelen was on the near post to receive, and his backwards-flicked header came to the Dutchman on the far post. For some reason, the Dortmund defenders on that side all kind of flowed into the middle, leaving van Persie all the time and space in the world to tap it in past Weidenfeller. They must have been reading "Defending Set Pieces - The Arsenal Way" with their halftime tea.

As this was happening, news filtered around that Olympiacos had taken a 1-0 lead on Olympique Marseille, meaning we would win the group if results held (or even if Marseille equalized).

It should have been Easy Street from there, but the Gunners still had to fulfill their Stupid Goal Conceded quota before De Bleeckere blew the final whistle. Incidentally, this happened during the "Arsene Wenger's Red and White Army" song - in the past I had given our own Brett some stick for how he bristled at us singing it too soon. I admit defeat there now, sir...the evidence is overwhelming.

An unassuming Dortmund attack in our half was broken up, but trouble started when Song tried to play his way out of trouble. He took it to the touchline and looked like he'd lose the ball, albeit in a fairly non-threatening position. Djourou, who was standing around like a mong instead of coming to support his teammate, was in the path of the play as it came to him. With one toe-poke, he deftly set up the Dortmund player next to him, who tore into the penalty area. This left Per Mertesacker with two men to guard (look at it again, Shagari - he had the man coming into the area as well as the trailer coming in late). The pass came in to the guy on the touchline, who outmuscled Vermaelen off the ball embarrassingly easily. He laid it back for the late-coming Shinji Kagawa, who deftly rolled the ball into the corner past the advancing Szczesny.

Despite the result, that's the frustration - that was a goal that would likely not have been conceded if Song, Djourou and Vermaelen hadn't all switched off at the same time.

Dortmund may have pushed on from there, but time ran out on them and the final whistle went. While I bitch and moan about the goal, it was still a fairly good performance against a side who just beat Bayern Munich at the Allianz-Arena this weekend past. Paired with Olympiacos holding out and winning 1-0, Arsenal have won the group and can play the kids on Matchday 6 when we travel to Greece.

So, the run continues. Up next is Fulham on Saturday afternoon at the Grove. They aren't a bad side but hopefully the Gunners can keep the momentum going and come away with three more critical points. See you then, and for those of you here in the States, Happy Thanksgiving!

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Santos 7, Mertesacker 7, Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 7 (Djourou 5), Ramsey 7, Arteta 7, Song 8, Gervinho 5 (Benayoun 6), Walcott 7 (Diaby N/A), van Persie 8

Man of the Match: It has to be Alex Song - not only for the Fred Astaire routine to set up the opening goal, but for his stellar work as the midfield destroyer as well.

(OK, OK...if it's killing you that badly, "Schwarzgelben" means "The Black Yellows". Rather does what it says on the tin with this lot, eh?)