22 October 2013

Arsenal 1-2 Dortmund: and back to Earth we go...

Well, it had to happen sooner or later, so it's really not terribly surprising that we dropped three points to Dortmund, arguably the best club we've faced to this point. That we came so close to keeping one point on a night when we were merely average
actually offers me some encouragement going forward. For as poorly as we played, we still came within 10 minutes of drawing against last year's second-place UCL finishers. Yes, we were at home, and yes, we hoped to seize all three points, but this was one match that caused some apprehensive feelings from the moment it was announced—a mixture of fear and excitement. A win would confirm our status among the world's elite, if only for a few weeks; a loss would undermine all of the progress we've made so far. Such is the binary nature of a club's form: world-beaters one week, also-rans the next.

The downside to going on a run such as the one we've been is that it does dull a squad's intensity. On each of the goals we conceded, there was a marked lack of intensity. On Dortmund's first, the first accusing fingers point directly at Ramsey. After all, he lost the ball as he tried to dribble across the top of the box between three Dortmund players. However, questions should also be posed to Arteta for passing to Ramsey when a more-forward pass to Wilshere might have been wise, and we could also ask Koscielny why he had such trouble closing on Mkhitaryan. Up to that point, and too often afterwards, there was a disturbing lack of urgency or purpose in the squad, as we settled for lackadaisical passing, casual tracking and marking, and a decidedly tepid performance all around. Dortmund's second goal was the more galling of the two, and we'll deal with that shortly. Having said all of that, we came close to keeping a point on a night when we didn't really deserve it.

Giroud equalized on a bit of fortuitous play shortly before half-time as Sagna's cross was first deflected a bit by Subotic and then mishandled by Weidenfeller, leaving Giroud with an open net into which he blasted home. We had some chances but have little to complain about; Cazorla hit the woodwork, and Hummels had a goal-line clearance, but, in the end, we got what we deserved. No squad concedes two goals as we did while still claiming a right to win. Not against the likes of Dortmund.

Speaking of complaining, there's bound to be some kvetching about Lewandowski. He seemed to clobber Koscielny with an elbow to the nose, but he only earned a yellow. That's an odd, Solomonic compromise, as the offense should have drawn red or nothing, as I understand it. Once the referee issued the yellow, odd as it may be, our boys had little choice but to dig in deeper and refuse to let this distract them. While I won't go so far as to suggest that they lost focus, it's telling that Lewandowski went on to score the go-ahead goal by coming down our right flank completely unmarked. It's as if Sagna, Ramsey, and Cazorla simply decided that Lewandowski could be safely ignored. As the play unfolded, we can see Mertesacker tracking back through the center of the box while marking Hofmann, Arteta trailing but not marking anyone, Koscielny caught between marking someone or committing to the ball-carrier Gro├čkreutz, and Gibbs making a half-hearted attempt at closing down on Gro├čkreutz. Nowhere near the play are Sagna, Ramsey, or Cazorla. Whether Lewandowski should have been on the pitch in that moment had been decided fifteen minutes prior; to then let him roam unmarked on a twenty-yard run into our box is inexcusable.

On a day when two of our most-dominant players had thoroughly average games, and when no one was especially effective, a one-goal loss to one of the world's best teams is hardly the death-knell that some will make it out to be. In the end, then, it's not a catastrophe. It complicates matters, to be sure. However, we still sit atop the UCL table even though we're level on points with Dortmund and Napoli. Marseille's poor form means that victories over them don't count; only matches played between teams level on points matter right now. As it stands, then, we're top of the table thanks to goal-differentials:
  • Arsenal 2-0 Napoli, Arsenal 1-2 Dortmund. Arsenal +1
  • Dortmund 1-2 Napoli, Dortmund 2-1 Arsenal. Dortmund +/- 0
  • Napoli 0-2 Arsenal, Napoli 2-1 Dortmund. Napoli -1
We therefore have a bit of a log-jam, and we may have to rely on Marseille's help if we expect to advance. Here is each club's remaining fixtures:
  • Arsenal: Dortmund (A), Marseille (H), Napoli (A).
  • Dortmund: Arsenal (H), Napoli (H), Marseille (A).
  • Napoli: Marseille (H), Dortmund (A), Arsenal (H)
This doesn't favor us as we now likely need at least four points from three matches to advance. Assuming we can defeat Marseille, we then have to take one point or more from trips to Dortmund or Napoli. Along the way, of course, we'll have to hope that Dortmund and Napoli draw with each other while Marseille finds a way to win. If we can defeat Marseille and Dortmund or Napoli, we should be through. However, if we beat Marseille and draw with Dortmund and Napoli, we'd have eleven points. We'd then have to hope for results elsewhere that favor us: Marseille winning its remaining matches, Dortmund and Napoli drawing with each other, and so on. It's a bit squeaky, then, isn't it?

To settle our nerves and digestive systems, we'll have a few days before Saturday's trip to Selhurst Park to face newly-promoted but struggling Crystal Palace, led by none than other Marouane Chamakh. More on that when the time is right. For now, lick your wounds and put Tuesday's loss behind you. It's a speed-bump, little more.

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