The record books, for anyone that can be arsed to look this kinda shit up, will show that Arsenal have not kept a clean sheet in Europe in seventeen matches. Rarely, across the seventeen matches, will they have conceded a goal as spectacular as the one with which Ivan Perisic denied Arsenal all three points last night. Look at it again. Wojciech Szczesny, the gigantic, super confident, Pole doesn’t even move. It was a great strike and, easy to say now, a moment of magic was the only thing that was going to deny Arsenal’s spirited performance last night. Almost universally, every blog that I have read this morning has pointed out that, though the last minute nature of the goal will inevitably disappoint, a point in Dortmund is nothing to be disappointed about. And that’s about right, because pretty much everyone expected us to get shredded last night.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, it could easily have happened as Dortmund began the match as Arsenal usually like to at home, in a hurry. Out of the myriad of chances they created early on, the closest they came was when Kagawa went round Szczesny, but Sagna did magnificently (as usual) to clear off the goal line. In a difficult early period, Arsenal struggled to get much going, although Gervinho went through on goal, but couldn’t get a proper shot away. It did seem like we were there to be taken, but gradually the Dortmund storm abated and Arsenal began to work their way back into the match. As we began to make ground van Persie chose to shoot from distance when perhaps a pass to any of the red shirts around him might have been a better option. He was then put through on goal. I thought he had time to control it but, backing his left foot (and when your left foot is as good as his is, why not?), he hit it on the half volley. But the keeper was equal to it.
Just as I was berating van Persie for his perceived crapness, he scored. My phone bleeped with a text from Luke, sample text “Koscielny is worse than Gus Caesar”, and I looked down. By the time I looked up, van Persie was through on goal and smashed home his right footed shot. Turns out he’d pressured the Dortmund defence into a mistake and been played through on goal by Theo in one of Theo’s rare moments of getting something right. We made it through to half time unscathed and when we came out for the second half, it seemed as though this Arsenal team felt the worst was behind them. Too many times we’ve seen Arsenal, ahead in Europe, panic and stutter. But, for me, there was a real conviction in Arsenal’s work last night. Perhaps the tone had been set by an adventurous team selection- Benayoun and not Frimpong joining Song and Arteta in midfield- perhaps it was the product of having some older heads in the team. Whatever, I felt strangely relaxed about things last night.
It helped that Koscielny shook off the damage sustained in a “double tap” mid air collision to have a storming second half, it helped that Alex Song was here, there and everywhere, winning balls and doing so largely without conceding his usual free kicks. He was imperious last night. It also helped, it has to be said, that we now have a goalkeeper in Wojciech Szczesny who transmits confidence by his very presence. I was thinking earlier in the week that last season must have felt a bit like a loan spell in the Arsenal goal for him. It’s different now, he’s the number 1(3), he knows it and his defence know it. Add an experienced German internation to the mix and we’ve got a recipe for a much calmer, more efficient defence.
None of which is to say that they weren’t put under huge pressure last night- they were, but by and large, they coped with it. It was one of those rare performances you get from an Arsene Wenger team that reminds you of a George Graham team- and for all the strengths of that back four, they were indebted to the man known simply as “The Goalie”more than once. And, for those of you not old enough to remember European campaigns under GG, they weren’t always pretty- well, they weren’t ever pretty- but they were successful. Could it be that Pat Rice is more influential than we ever realised? His “it’s too stressful” comment last night reminded me of when Silvio has to take control of the Soprano family after Tony’s shooting. Only one more game to go, Pat!
We could have added to our goal, Gervinho desperately unlucky to lose his balance under pressure as he ran through on goal, Walcott blazing over when he had time to take a touch or two. Dortmund gathered themselves for one last go and were duly rewarded with 2 minutes to go. A free kick on our right was headed out to the edge of the box where, fatefully, Perisic was waiting to strike the sweetest of dipping volleys into the corner of the net. Reinvigorated, Dortmund poured forward in search of what would have been a heartbreaking winner, Subotic nearly got it. Instead, he found Szczesny’s arse. And we had a point. Okay, so it wasn’t three, but it was, on paper, the hardest of the 6 fixtures we face in this group. I think it was a very good point.