Fresh from victory in a top-of-the-table clash against Liverpool that gave then a five point lead atop the Premier League, Arsenal travel to take on Borussia Dortmund needing a result to stay on course for continental progress.
A late Robert Lewandowski goal at the Emirates Stadium two weeks ago dramatically altered the complexion of Group F. Arsenal’s lead at the top is now only based on goal difference, with both Dortmund and Napoli on six points. A group that always looked the toughest in the Champions League this season is now balanced on a knife edge. Defeat for either side at the Westfalenstadion would lead them on the precipice of elimination.
For Arsenal, the match is another test of their credentials. The Gunners were impressive in convincingly disposing of Liverpool at the weekend, but, as against Tottenham, they had beaten a good side playing well below its potential. Dortmund, in one of the most raucous stadiums in Europe, promises to be a much tougher examination.
As in the home match against last season’s Champions League finalists, it will be a contest that Arsenal are forced to go into without Mathieu Flamini. Previous to Sunday whenever the midfielder had been absent, Arsenal lost much in terms of his own combativeness and his influence on those around him. Against Liverpool, Mikel Arteta did a fine job shielding the back four, but he was helped by the lack of dynamism and quality and often poor decision making by Liverpool on the break.
Their opponents are unlikely to be so deficient on Wednesday. Dortmund are arguably the fastest and the best counter-attacking team in Europe. Combined with their pressing, it has been the basis for their incredible success in recent seasons. Aptly, and in the typically expressive style that has endeared him and his team to fans across Europe, Jurgen Klopp described the difference between the style of Arsenal and Dortmund in the buildup to the game.
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“It's like an orchestra," the Dortmund boss said of Arsenal’s play in an interview with The Guardian. "But it's a silent song, yeah? I like heavy metal."
Dortmund’s heavy metal football is likely to test both Arteta’s athleticism and Aaron Ramsey’s defensive discipline. It was a lack of restraint that led to the concession of Lewandowski’s late winner two weeks ago.
Arsenal’s cause will be helped by the continued absence of key midfielder Ilkay Gundogan, but Dortmund have been in fine form in his absence in recent weeks. After their win in London, Dortmund scored a 3-1 win at the home of bitter rivals Schalke before trouncing Stuttgart 6-1 on Friday helped by a hat-trick from Lewandowski.
The Pole is arguably the best natural striker in the world right now and will fully test Arsenal’s defense in a stadium where his side have a perfect record in all competitions this season. Dortmund have to be favorites to get a win that will put Arsenal under massive pressure heading into their final two games of the group against Marseille and Napoli.
Prediction: Borussia Dortmund 2-1 Arsenal