Borussia Dortmund ended Arsenal’s perfect European record with a 2-1 victory at the Emirates Stadium in week 3 of the Champions League. Jurgen Klopp’s side were not at their best throughout the contest, but showcased a clinical, killer instinct far surpassing that of their comparatively wasteful opponents.
It was a uncharacteristically muted performance from Dortmund. Arsenal controlled the majority of the tie, and were a little unlucky to go behind early to Henrikh Mkhirtaryan. But Die Borussen maintained a lingering threat on the break and overran the Premier League leaders in the latter stages of the game. They eventually went ahead late-on through Robert Lewandowski, after Olivier Giroud had equalized for the Gunners.
The supreme fitness of the German side was no surprise, for Klopp has built a pragmatic, pressing machine in his years as manager. And whilst this is often lauded, along with the side’s supremely talented players, Dortmund are starting to showcase unnerving composure and decisiveness in the crucial moments of key contests. Looking ahead, it is a combination of attributes that makes them a seriously formidable proposition.
A trip to a red-hot Arsenal represented a majorly difficult task for BVB, especially with their talismanic manager banished to the directors box following his touchline outburst against Napoli. Taking three points represents a fine result. Arsene Wenger branded his team as ‘naive’ in the aftermath of the game, but Klopp’s troops were anything but.
They frustrated the Gunners; hunting the ball down in packs and nullifying the influence of Arsenal’s creative players. So much so, that Mesut Ozil was eventually shifted into a wide-right possession; a less congested area of the pitch that allowed him to see more of the ball. Dortmund by comparison looked to nick it from Arsenal in advanced areas with their high press, and when they won the ball deep, spring forward using their devastatingly swift transitions through defense, midfield and attack.
Granted, they didn’t implement these ploys to their usual high standards and were a little short of their best all over the pitch. But the team still managed to fashion chances. And when they arose, both Mkhirtaryan and Lewandowski showcased their goalscoring instincts and snaffled the opportunities with aplomb.
It was a ruthless side to Dortmund we’ve not really seen before, mainly because they haven’t had to be so clinical for quite some time. Not often in recent years have they been under the cosh for long periods. Not often have they had to surrender possession. Not often have their levels of performance sagged below their usual gold standard. In Europe last season, they were overwhelmingly dominant for so long before falling to a masterful Bayern Munich outfit in the final.
Arsenal matched BVB throughout; they bettered them for long periods. But Die Borrusen soaked up everything the Gunners threw at his side and still came out victorious. Without wanting to sound cliché, isn’t this the mark of a truly great side? Winning without playing well? It is a true measure of a team’s character and class when they can do that at a venue as difficult as the Emirates and against a side as impressive and in-form as this Arsenal one.
And they did so without two key players. Nuri Sahin is a fine midfielder, but Ilkay Gundogan is so crucial to the fluidity of Dortmund’s devastating transitions; he was missed. Lukasz Piszczek too, is a key figure and whilst Kevin Grosskreutz provided the cross for the winning goal, he is a midfielder by trade. Throughout the 90 minutes, he wasted a plethora of excellent opportunities when getting forward from right back.
The team looks as though they have learned a lot from their Champions League run last season. Not only are they hungry to go one better in this year’s competition, but after their third consecutive season of Champions League football, they seem increasingly street-wise when it comes to the big ties. Battle-hardened, if you will.
It gives opponents like Arsenal, who have started well but are still progressing, very little margin for error. It seems now that not only can Dortmund outplay sides, as they have done so regularly as of late, but they have the experience and mental strength at hand to out-battle teams too.
Dortmund will go on to perform better than they did against Arsenal. Once they’ve got their influential manager back on the sidelines. Once they’ve got the likes of Gundogan and Piszczek back in the side. And once the likes of Marco Reus and Sven Bender are back up to full fitness.
If they can preserve this ruthless streak that seems to be emerging, they are well set to go long into the competition once again. They have a tough group, but look favorites to qualify with two home games still to come. Get past that, and who would bet against Dortmund making it to the final again? They a fast becoming a true thoroughbred of the European football landscape.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball
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