Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Defensive brilliance denies Dortmund

Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny’s pockets must be bulging by now. Ahead of the trip to Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal’s centre backs already had Roberto Soldado, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge tucked away in there. Now, Robert Lewandowski has been scooped up by the defensive duo and tucked away for safe keeping.
The 1-0 win in Dortmund, much more than the impressive win over Liverpool at the weekend, really does make people stand up and take notice of this Arsenal team. If people didn’t believe that they are a serious outfit this season, they have to now. The Gunners became the first English team to win in the Champions League away to Borussia Dortmund. A Dortmund team, it must be added, who had won their last eight consectutive matches at the Westfalenstadion.
What’s been impressive about Arsenal in the last few days is not just that they’ve beaten Liverpool and Dortmund, it’s been that they’ve shut both of them out. The heralded Suarez and Sturridge partnership and the much coveted Robert Lewandowski have been unable to find a way past the Arsenal back line.
This season, I’m yet to see a better centre back in the Premier League than Per Mertesacker. The German giant was immense in Dortmund, winning tackles against quicker players running at him and making vital clearances when under pressure. For a country that is known by many for liking good defending, I hope the English media give Mertesacker the praise he deserves, especially for his last two performances.
However a good centre back is always made to look even better when he’s got an equally good partner. Laurent Koscielny also gave a superb display alongside Mertesacker, keeping the Dortmund chances down to a minimum. Even after being taken out by the Dortmund keeper, Koscienly returned to make vital headers near the end of the game.
What particularly struck me about this Koscielny performance was that he stayed calm and didn’t commit rash fouls. Numerous times I feared he’d charge over to the attacker and slide in needlessly to cause danger for the Gunners, as he has done occasionally to concede penalties. However he showed how much he’s developing as a player by regularly standing up when faced with players heading towards goal and using his speed and strength to manouevre them away from goal.
Whilst the centre back pairing have been mentioned for special praise, the whole team’s defensive effort was tremendous. To a man, Arsenal worked as a team, covered space and harried the opposition.
Whereas the win over Liverpool was about quick passing and really attacking the opposition, Arsenal had to be more patient against Dortmund. The fact it took an hour to register a shot proved that. However, that shot was decisive.
We’ll probably never know what happened to Aaron Ramsey over the summer, but he is now awesome. There’s not really many other ways of putting it. It’s not just that he’s scoring goals from midfield, he’s scoring a variety of important goals that are winning games. Whilst his strike at the weekend against Liverpool was spectactular, the winner in Germany was more scrappy, but equally as impressive for the way he arrived perfectly to nod in Giroud’s knock-down.
Going forward, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud didn’t have their best games, but still had a big effect on the result by combining to set-up Ramsey for the goal. Arsenal’s big players are delivering at big moments.
The win will give the team immense confidence ahead of the trip to Manchester United on Sunday. It will obviously be a tough game because, with the injuries Arsenal have at the moment, Arsene Wenger has few options to rotate into the team. After two monumental efforts this week, one more from Arsenal would send a third, and conclusive, statement that people need to believe that Arsenal are seriously looking to challenge for major honours this season. They’re no longer pushovers.
All the talk from managers before the game was about music, and whilst the match was neither a classical symphony or a rock concert, Arsene Wenger hit all the right notes with the way he set up his team. Dortmund might be the cool team to support but I’m sorry football hipsters, sometimes there is nothing better than a good old 1-0 to the Arsenal.