Match Review - Arsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0 - Champions League
“I personally feel that there’s a very strong bond inside the team and the club, and that this team will have a very strong season. I am ready to bet with you on that."
Those were the words of under fire Arsène Wenger at his press conference on Tuesday afternoon. What struck me was the conviction in his voice. He had that knowing wry smile as he said it. This wasn't said for his players, this was a statement that said he was not crazy and that those who were hissing would catch up with him soon.
I believed him, partly because I have been convinced of the same thing even if the evidence has been somewhat missing since we kicked off in August.
As I wrote post United defeat, I hadn't expected the team to start as brightly as they did. Coming off the back of a defeat at Swansea as well as the notoriously damaging International break. We looked like a team who had been training in pre season for two weeks non stop on our game both offensively and defensively, well at least before we smashed in the handbrake after the own goal.
But Manchester United were devoid of a defence and much of midfield so maybe that was the answer, we'd get found out by Dortmund many said pre match. Dortmund's counter attacking game is their strength where as defending them is one of our weaknesses.
With Giroud unavailable and Danny Welbeck either injured or rested it was down to Yaya Sanogo to lead the line and put behind him his misfiring form from August.
Just before kick off I read a comment on an Arsenal blog saying that he had better things to do after finding out that Yaya Sanogo's name was in the line up. Moments later Yaya Sanogo received Chambers throw in on the corner of the penalty area, he brought the ball under his spell with some juggling and flicks away from the advances of hungry central defenders before flicking a back heal to Cazorla, Santi gave the ball back to Sanogo who chased after a slightly heavy touch which kind of forced his decision to hit the ball through the keepers legs as he had little other option.
The goal was created by the brilliance of Sanogo and in typical style he may have lost that chance with a heavy touch.
It is a goal that will hopefully take away some pressure off his shoulders and he can play with a little more freedom the next time he steps onto the pitch. Unfortunately for him, that doesn't seem like happening for a few weeks at least following his hamstring strain late on.
We had the bit between our teeth from the off and that was very pleasing. I was hoping our 1st half against United would be the new norm and not a one off, our start last night convinces me a little more that the team are scribbling down the new blueprint to be used for the rest of the season but it is still very much early days.
I don't know what has happened since Swansea but the team look like they have changed. I find it almost as entertaining to watch us without the ball as it is with it. Waves of red and white shirts sprinting after the ball and when it is won back we seem more direct in our passing. I think this is why the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain have impressed in recent weeks. He is getting the ball at the right times when he can turn and face his full back on a one on one and not have lines of defenders in front of him.
Calum Chambers who should have received far more praise over the weekend for his display but good performances have been somewhat swept to one side. No escaping them today though, Ramsey looked more like his old self. Working harder on the defensive side of his game and playing a smarter game. Timing his runs instead of spending most of the game in the final third.
Santi Cazorla was the pick of the bunch for me though. Playing a central position behind Sanogo seemed to liberate the Spaniard. His shifting feet when surrounded by snapping opposition midfielders is a joy to watch. He seemed to link up much better with Alexis compared to previous games.
Nacho Monreal was superb once again. I agree with Tim Stillman's recent Arseblog article about his performances being judged totally differently had he signed for Arsenal as a centre back. He has been one of our better performers in recent games and it's unfortunate that the finger often lands his way.
Dortmund were starting to come back into the game but they were finding us a tough nut to crack. Martinez in goal had a good game and looked quite calming.
The magic moment of the game came from our magic player of the season so far. It's nice to have a match winner in there again. Someone who can pull something out instead of having to only rely on our collective game. He picked up Santi's pass swerved inside his man and curled a shot into the far corner for 2-0.
What was reassuring to see was our response to that goal. We suddenly became streetwise and sensible in our defending. Pressing at the right time and dropping off when required. Remember this is the same defenders that had conceded poor goals at Swansea only a few weeks ago. I am still convinced that it was the team defensive plan that was the issue and not the individuals in the team. Hopefully we are now heading in the right direction, maybe some painful experiences have lead to this but if we can improve at both ends of the pitch then it can only be a good thing.
Having said all this, I'm sure we can find reasons why Dortmund were not as strong as they could have been. The same will be said if we beat West Brom at the weekend. It doesn't really matter, what matters is that we collect as many three points as we can from now until May.
Not all is hunky dory though. Mikel Arteta who was top quality for the second game running picked up a thigh strain. I thought it might be bad the way he shook his head whilst sitting on the floor. After the game Arsène did not play it down and said it looks serious which isn't what we wanted to hear. It's a big blow and we have nobody else to come in and do what Arteta does. I'd be surprised if Arsène didn't look to invest in this area if he can find the right player.
Anyway that is a month away at least, we have some football to play before that and it will be nice to play some football with a win tucked up our sleeves.
The post match podcast should be available later today, check back later for that.