BORUSSIA DORTMUND 0 ARSENAL 1
One-nil to The Arsenal. For all the flair and finesse, the goals and the grace, there’s something still very beautiful and poetic about a good old-fashioned one-nil to The Arsenal and so it proved as we came away from Dortmund with all three points, becoming the first English team to win there in the process.
Some have tried to criticise us for having “only beaten the small teams”, but you can only play and beat the opponents in front of you. That said, in my last post I did allude to the fact the more difficult fixtures we had face so far (5pur2, Napoli, Dortmund, and Liverpool) had all been at home. Last night, the reverse fixture against Dortmund saw our first big test away from home and I was excited to see how we’d perform. I’m pleased to report we were fantastic (again).
Since Munich away last season our shape, discipline, and tactics have clearly changed. I therefore found it fascinating that prior to both the Liverpool and Dortmund games Arsene referenced keeping the ball, having the majority of possession, as the key to defending against both sides’ formidable strike-forces. It fascinated me because we now seem so comfortable without the ball. Of course the preference is to dictate proceedings, but against top opposition, who will look to control things too, we now seem much more comfortable biding our time and waiting for the right moment to pounce. And that’s exactly what we did.
Szczesny and his back-four were once again immaculate and fully deserving of their clean-sheet, with special mention to the BFG who was outstanding. In front of them Arteta did the work of two men; that of Mikel Arteta (the protector, the ball keeper) and that of Mathieu Flamini (the dark destroyer, the yellow to red card tightrope walker). Buzzing around him with their usual energy and drive were Ramsey and Rosicky, whilst Cazorla and Özil supported the always hard-working Olivier Giroud. Then bang. One-nil to the Arsenal.
Some lovely build-up play saw Rosicky spread the ball wide to Özil. The German clipped a delightful cross into Giroud, who used all his strength and aerial ability to knock the ball down to the on-rushing Ramsey. The Welshman got ahead of his man and with our first attempt of the game headed in the winning goal.
The possession statistic came on-screen shortly after and we were actually shading it with 51%, however up until our goal we’d struggled to create any openings, with Dortmund working hard and pressing high. But unlike the home tie, where mistakes lead to their goals, we were calm and composed. It’s a side to Arsene’s Arsenal that has only really been seen in 2006 en route to the Champions League Final. But now it seems more frequent, more measured, more assured.
This season we’ve only kept 7 clean-sheets from 18 games in all competitions (39%). But of those 7 clean-sheets 6 have come against Fenerbahce, 5pur2, Napoli, Liverpool, and Dortmund. It would indicate that against the “lesser teams” we are more attack minded, confident we can out score them, but against the “bigger teams” we are more patient, more intelligent, and aware of just how import clean-sheets are, especially when you consider we’ve scored the first goal in 15 of our 18 games (83%). Furthermore, many people have referenced the statistic that we have the fourth highest total in the “Shots Against” column, but those same people have overlooked the statistic (pointed out by @Orbinho this week) that only Southampton have allowed fewer shots on target from inside the penalty area.
On the whole we dominate, are more fluent and attacking, but for the bigger occasions we’re now aware of the importance of needing to keep our shape, hold our discipline, and be ruthless with our chances. Since the turn of the year and since Munich away in particular, we seem to have found the right balance and this philosophy and approach is working well. Long may it continue.
MANCHESTER UNITED AWAY
Next up is Manchester United on Sunday. My heart tells me we’re full of confidence, on a fantastic run of form, and the win is there for the taking. My head tells me we have a poor record at Old Trafford, have just played two high energy games with few options for freshness, and a point would be a very good result. Of course I’d love to win, but a point wouldn’t be too shabby either. It would see us head into the international break top of the league with at least a 3 point lead. But I hope my heart is right because this squad play with such pride, such togetherness, and fight for the cannon on their chest. They deserve another win so here’s hoping. Up The Arsenal.