Arsenal: Szczesny, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck.
Subs: Ospina, Chambers, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski, Campbell
Arsenal endured a chastening night at the Westfalenstadion as Borussia Dortmund ended Arsene Wenger’s 14-game unbeaten run with a clinical 2-0 victory on matchday one of Champions League Group D.
Dominating from the off the Bundesliga outclassed the Gunners all over the pitch before Italian international Ciro Immobile broke the deadlock just seconds before half-time. Patrick Aubameyang doubled the lead two minutes after the break and the Germans threatened an avalanche of goals only for Wojciech Szczesny to repeatedly deny them a third.
Arsene Wenger handed Hector Bellerin a Champions League debut at right-back with Mathieu Debuchy out for the long-term and Calum Chambers struggling with tonsillitus. The latter took a place on the bench as the only defensive option. Kieran Gibbs replaced Nacho Monreal, left in England nursing a back problem, while Mikel Arteta returned to the starting line-up in place of Mathieu Flamini. Up front Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez continued to flank Danny Welbeck as they did against Manchester City at the weekend.
The opening moments were something of a yellow and black blur as the home side attacked the Gunners like a swarm of angry hornets. It was to be an ongoing theme.
Jurgen Klopp’s men forced a couple of early corners, snapped into challenges and then had a big shout for a penalty as Mikel Arteta and Henrikh Mkhitaryan came together on the edge of the box after the Spaniard had given the ball away. The Portuguese referee dismissed the Armenian’s dive and instead gave him a yellow card. It could easily have gone the other way.
The pressure from Dortmund was unrelenting as they repeatedly took advantage of desperate hacked clearances by the men in blue. On 13 minutes Greek international Sokratis Papastathopoulos fired just wide as a corner that landed inside the six-yard box, two minutes later Ciro Immobile screwed an effort wide from distance. When we did retain possession for any period of time, which was rare, the whistles from the packed Westfalenstadion were deafening.
As the half hour mark came and went the Gunners goal continued to live a charmed life. First Wojciech Szczesny made a fine stop from close range to deny Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang before Jack Wilshere’s last-ditch challenge put off Mkhitaryan who looked destined to score as a cross was palmed into his path just yards out.
Forming something of a one man wall against the constant waves of attack our Pole in goal again stopped Aubameyang, tipping around the post, as the Gabon international struck from a tight angle, and also clung on to a fiercely struck Immobile drive.
In a rare Arsenal attack Gibbs showed tenacity to reach the byline only for Welbeck to make a mess of the dinked cross that found him at the far post. Five minutes before the break the new boy latched onto a Ramsey through ball but he again fluffed his lines, screwing wide with only Roman Wiedenfeller to beat.
A minute before the break Dortmund finally got the goal they deserved. Arsenal had a throw-in down by the home side’s corner flag but after surrendered possession too easily. Ciro Immobile latched onto a long ball on the halfway line and didn’t look back. He charged at the Arsenal defence, cut across Laurent Koscielny and found a perfect angle to slide the ball past Szczesny. (1-0)
It was the last kick of the half and a body blow just when it looked like we might have a chance to regroup on level terms.
Arsenal couldn’t afford a poor start in the second period, but that’s exactly what they produced and again they were ruthlessly punished. Only two minutes had passed when Kevin Grosskreutz fed Aubameyang who bundled his way around Szczesny and somehow managed to bounce his shot in despite Koscielny’s presence on the line.
Smelling blood and more goals Dortmund continued to make chances at will. With 50 minutes on the clock Mkhitaryan nearly hammered home a third but his shot was tipped over acrobatically by Szczesny. Papastathopoulos gave it five minutes before testing the Pole with another stinger, then Aubameyang cracked the bar. In between Welbeck’s poor evening continued when he failed to make contact with a Ramsey cross at close range.
There was a booking for Mesut Ozil, who fouled Marcel Schmelzer on the touchline, and not long after he and Aaron Ramsey were subbed off in favour of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla. The German international just wasn’t at the races, but he was hardly alone in that.
Dortmund took their foot off the gas a little as the second half wore on and we managed to string a few passes together. In fact we got so relaxed that Szczesny seemed to slip into a coma; nearly gifting the hosts a third when he dealt with a Koscielny back pass by passing it to Aubameyang just yards from goal.
The individual mistakes just kept coming. Arteta not for the first time gave the ball away and Mkhitaryan spurned another glorious chance. The Armenian’s shooting really was appalling all evening.
Whatever Mkhitaryan did badly, Welbeck seemed to want to emulate. A smart turn on the edge of the box was followed by a wild finish which soared into row Z. His evening was compounded by a kick on the knee by Neven Subotic. Getting desperate Wenger threw on Lukas Podolski in place of Arteta and the World Cup winner received a warm greeting from his compatriots both on and off the pitch.
In the final five minutes Chamberlain denied Mkhitaryan his side’s third(again!) with a desperate challenge after the entire Arsenal defence backtracked at the end of a move that saw Wilshere left sprawled on the floor holding his left ankle. Clearly annoyed the midfielder picked up a booking for a petulant foul. Podolski did come close to getting a consolation as the game entered stoppage time but his inability to get a shot off served as another reminder of how limp we’d been all night.
All in all a pretty pathetic showing from Arsene Wenger’s men who well and truly had their arses handed to them by a far more organised and determined outfit. Next up it’s Galatasaray at home before Anderlecht away in late October. It already feels like we’re playing for second in the group, but even that’s going to be a tall order unless we improve quickly.