Yesterday marked the launch of the 23rd edition of the UEFA Champions League, arguably football’s most glorious tournament, and, as is the tradition, there was some absolutely breathtaking football on display from the get go.
All eyes will have been fixed on two mouth-watering clashes in matchday one, and even though Manchester City have yet to face Bayern Munich, the game at Signal Iduna Park did not disappoint…well unless you are an Arsenal fan.
Dortmund and Arsenal are no strangers, having been drawn into the same Champions League group three times in the last four years. While Dortmund bested Arsenal to advance from a tough group last year, the feeling coming into the game was that this was the weakest Dortmund side Arsenal have faced in recent years…at least on paper.
After all, Dortmund lost their main talisman Robert Lewandowski to Bayern Munich over the summer, bringing in Ciro Immobile and very recently Shinji Kagawa as replacements for the prolific forward.
Arsenal’s acquisition of Alexis Sanchez, on the other hands, and deadline day signing Danny Welbeck meant that the Gunners should have been arguably the side that had made the better upgrades.
Coming into the game at Iduna Park, however, fitness concerns and injuries meant that Dortmund would be without quite a few key figures in Mats Hummels, Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan, Nuri Sahin, and Jakub Blaszczykowski, while Arsenal’s similarly long injury list would deprive them of Nacho Monreal, Mathieu Debuchy, Yaya Sanogo and Olivier Giroud.
Long night for Arsenal
Such injury woes for both teams would have fooled one into expecting an even affair in Germany, but from the starting whistle it was obvious it was going to be a painfully long night for Arsenal.
From the get go, Dortmund looked fitter, sharper, and hungrier than their English counterparts. Mikel Arteta was often nowhere to be found on during the home side's counters, Jack Wilshere seemed to always take one touch too many and one would have been forgiven for wondering if Mesut Ozil was even on the pitch.
For 90 minutes, Dortmund abosulutely ran over Arsenal, at no point looking uncomfortable. A 2-0 scoreline absolutely flattered Arsenal, who were carved open all night by runs from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Immobile, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, . The final score could easily have been 5-0 if they have taken the chances they created.
Questions will continue to be asked over Wenger’s decision to keep starting Ozil - who has looked lost since the beginning of the season - over Santi Cazorla, who not only is as creative, but works harder defensively and is also a massive goal threat.
Danny Welbeck’s horrible finishing last night simply brought to the surface something that everyone knows, which is that you simply cannot mount a serious league title challenge or Champions League run with him as your main striker.
No Arsenal fan would want to accept it, but with their current squad, a top-four finish is all they can hope for in the league in addition to another Champions League quarter-final exit if they are lucky.
Dortmund exposed all of Arsenal’s deficiencies and until Arsene Wenger addresses the problems in his defence and striking options, well…they will be lucky to even win the Capital One Cup this season.