26 November 2014

Time to make Dortmund's UCL form match its Bundesliga misery

We've become quite familiar with Dortmund over the last few years, having been paired in the Champions League group stage three times in the last four, and it feels very much at times like looking into a mirror, whether we consider results, form, transfer-woes, injuries, among other issues. In the eight total matches we've played, each has won three, and there's been one tie. Each side has scored eight goals. Each of us has lost a key playmaker and goal-scorer to a league rival (eventually, if we admit that Fabregas to Chelsea counts) and have struggled to overtake or keep up with our league's giant(s). In the last decade, we've each made it to the Champions League final only to come away empty-handed (Dortmund did win it in 1997). However, rather than sympathy or commiseration, I hope we offer our visitors today the coldest of shoulders, pummeling them roundly to restore our own pride even if it batters theirs.

Dortmund's season has been about as psychoprenic as any in recent memory. Sitting atop Group D, they're undefeated with 12 points, have scored 13 and conceded only one, and seem to be treating the Champions League as a windmill at which to obsessively tilt. By contrast, of course, they currently sit in the drop-zone after 12 matches, having won three and lost seven. They needed a Borussia Monchengladbach own-goal to snap a four-match losing streak but promptly followed that by squandering a 2-0 lead to draw away to newly-promoted Paderborn, losing talisman Marco Reus to an ankle-injury in the process. In short, for as shambolic as we've often seemed, we can at least claim to be a result or two away from contention; Dortmund might have to reel of four or five wins in a row just to rise to mid-table.

It's therefore up to us to disabuse them of any notions of grandeur they may hold. While it may be too late to deny them a first-place finish in Group D—we would have to win today and again in December at Galatasaray while hoping Dortmund lose at home to Anderlecht, among other permutations—it's not too late to avenge the hiding we received when we last visited the Westfalenstadion. There's nothing worse than suffering from delusions, and if we can do our dearest Bundesliga buddies a favor by bringing them down to Earth. After all, if we let them continue to fly high, beguiling themselves in believing that they can coast all the way to the Champions League final, well, what kind of friends would we be? Call this one an intervention. If we don't step in (and step up), well, the long-term damage to Dortmund's psyche might be too much for them to sustain.

More seriously, we know that we need a positive result from this far more than Dortmund do. We're a point away from securing advancement to the knockout-stage, and rather than hoping for Anderlecht to end in a draw, let's hope that our lads can seize destiny by the throat and throttle it, laying to rest the ghosts and demons of recent weeks. We'll go in without Wilshere or Woj, but we could welcome Kos back, and or as much as we've struggled lately, it's been in back. If Kos can partner with Per, we could see the return of a defensive pairing that had been one of the best in recent years. Getting Monreal out of the middle wouldn't just be an upgrade, it might also restore Mertesacker to a role he's been more comfortable playing. Against the dangerous counters that Dortmund can spring, even without Reus, we will need a more-solid defensive set-up than we've been able to offer for most of the duration of Koscielny's absence. Considering the speed with which Dortmund can get forward, it might make sense to play the pacey Bellerin instead of Chambers; after all, he did face Dortmund in the first leg and, while he didn't quite, he held his own, and we will need speed more than stature against the likes of Aubemayang and others. His ability to get forward might also occupy midfielder Kevin Grosskreutz, who's been a persistent thorn in our side.

After two disappointing results, we know that we need to bounce back. A win today would do more than send us through to the knockout-stage; it could remind us of just how much quality we do have in the squad. After all, we've played very well for long stretches but have been undone by our own mistakes and by unlucky breaks. Against Dortmund, we have to know that we can't repeat those same mistakes. Whereas I was worried going into the Man U match, I sense a grim determination emanating from the Emirates, strong enough to repel our putative counterparts and propel us on a bit of a run in the Prem.

PREDICTION: Arsenal 3-1 Dortmund.