Three Points: Borussia Dortmund vs. Arsenal

A goal in each half for Borussia Dortmund sealed a 2-0 win over Arsenal in their first game of the group stage.

A trio of thoughts on Borussia Dortmund’s 2-0 win vs. Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League.

1. Arsenal’s reality check

After a week spent talking about how they finally needed to finish first in a Champions League group, Arsenal were shown why they are still emphatically second best.

This was a 2-0 Borussia Dortmund win that could have been so much more. It was an absolute thrashing, to the point that the home side’s Ciro Immobile was showboating with outside-of-the-foot passes by the hour mark. It was also reminiscent of so many of Arsenal’s big defeats in big games last season, with so many of the same problems displayed.

The only possible negative for Jurgen Klopp’s side is that they did not give themselves the cushion of an ample goal difference, as they really could have done. The ultimate positive, though, is that that factor is actually being discussed given some of the pre-game discussion.

While Arsenal were only missing Mathieu Debuchy and Olivier Giroud, Dortmund were again missing the core of their team. Despite that, the Germans are now unlikely to miss out on top spot in group D. For Arsenal, it’s same old, same old and that all only emphasises longer-term truths about both sides, and both managers.

2. Dynamic Dortmund 

Dortmund continue to suffer from the ruthless realities of modern football economics… yet Klopp continues to just enhance his reputation. In that, he personally defies the realities of today’s game.

It is remarkable — and so, so impressive — that, no matter the frequent and drastic change of personnel, Dortmund retain the same relentless pace of play. They pounded at Arsenal from the very start on Tuesday and just never let up. Arsene Wenger’s side looked utterly stunned and the truly impressive aspect, however, was that it never changed: Dortmund just didn’t allow them to adjust or adapt to the pace of the game.

Immobile’s first goal for the club set Dortmund on their way to victory.

The hosts kept coming at Arsenal and utterly unravelled them time and again. Every time Klopp’s side went forward, there were a frightening range of angles and options, and always a runner — or even two or three — over. It was football from the future but yet still — and most gallingly for Wenger — the type of rampaging red-arrow attacking in which his side used to specialise at their 2004 peak.

And, despite that, it was not like Dortmund actually needed to be at their best for both of the key moments…

3. Familiar failings

If it is so creditable that Dortmund retain their pace regardless of changes, it is so questionable how Arsenal retain the same problems regardless of season. This match exposed two primary issues in terms of personnel, at the very least: the lack of a top-class finisher and the lack of a top-class defensive midfielder.

It was the latter that ultimately proved their undoing here. Despite the sophistication of Dortmund’s football, the first goal was of the utmost simplicity: a long ball forward that finally caught out the absence of a proper structure.

While there is an argument that was exacerbated by the manner in which the Germans had rampaged and pulled Arsenal all over the place, it’s difficult not to think that a signing like Sami Khedira or William Carvalho might have provided much greater stability, and properly lifted the team and defence for games like this.

Jack Wilshere and his teammates had no answer for the hosts at the Westfalenstadion.

As it was, in the 45th minute Dortmund finally broke the deadlock after a series of forceful attacks, as Immobile finished the type of opportunity that Danny Welbeck had squandered just moments earlier. The fact that those two chances came in such quick succession may have been unfortunate for Arsenal’s new striker, but it’s difficult to escape the current implication.

Right now, Welbeck misses far too many of those chances, and it is something he is going to have to improve rather quickly. He couldn’t do so in this match, as he went on to awkwardly miss three in total.

This was not a side as mediocre as Switzerland, against whom he scored twice for England last week. It was a match against one of Europe’s finest clubs, in a game that Arsenal needed to not lose in order to finish first and show they are capable of moving up to a new level.

Instead, we saw so many old flaws, and may well be resigned to the same old situation. Arsenal are going to have to change a fair bit to come top of the group, and maybe just not in terms of results.

Miguel Delaney

Miguel Delaney is a London-based correspondent for ESPN and also writes for the Irish Examiner, the Independent, Blizzard and assorted others. He is the author of an award-nominated book on the Irish national team called “Stuttgart to Saipan” (Mentor) and was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year in 2011. Follow him on Twitter @MiguelDelaney.

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