There will certainly be an air of familiarity swirling around the Westfalenstadion on Tuesday when Borussia Dortmund host Arsenal. It will be the third time in four seasons that the two sides have met in the group phase of the Champions League. Last season, both sides progressed through to the Round of 16, and will be expected to do so again this time around. But, with Galatasaray lurking as potentially tricky opponents, and Anderlecht rounding out Group D, Dortmund and Arsenal will be eager to get their campaign off to a positive start.
Arsenal know all about the difficulties in taking on Turkish opposition having nervously negotiated a playoff tie with Fenerbahce to secure their place in the group phase for the 17th straight season. Now the attention turns to attempting to make it 15 consecutive campaigns progressing through the initial round. Their prospects of achieving that goal have been hit by two significant early season injuries. Only weeks after Olivier Giroud was ruled out for the rest of 2014, Mathieu Debuchy is reportedly out for three months after suffering ankle ligament damage in the rollercoaster 2-2 draw with champions Manchester City on Saturday. Also not making the Dortmund trip is Nacho Monreal, while another defender, Calum Chambers, missed training on Monday with tonsillitis.
On transfer deadline-day manager Arsène Wenger moved to address his shortage up front by bringing in Danny Welbeck from Manchester United, but he failed to tend to his already meager defensive numbers. On Tuesday, Kieran Gibbs will start at left-back, with 19-year-old Chambers set to make his European debut on the opposite side if he can shake off his problem. If Chambers does make it, the Arsenal manager will still be just another injury away from having to move players out of position or rely on untested youngsters. If Chambers is unavailable, Spanish teenager Hector Bellerin could have to make his first start for the club.
Without the injury concerns, there will be reasons for positivity for Arsenal as they arrive at a venue where they secured a 1-0 win and one of their most impressive results last season. They may have ultimately emerged with a third-straight draw, but Arsenal again showed some impressive resilience against Manchester City, and there was a fine performance and even better goal by the much-scrutinized and oft-criticized Jack Wilshere. The improving performances of the England midfielder mean there is little chance of Mesut Özil being moved back to his favored central role any time soon. As he prepares to take on a team from his homeland, the German World Cup winner is now the Arsenal player having his place in the team questioned.
Özil’s German national team colleague and Borussia Dortmund’s own playmaker-in-chief Marco Reus will definitely be out of the hosts’ lineup due to injury. After regularly having several players unavailable last season, Dortmund’s fitness problems have continued at the start of this campaign. Long-term casualty Ilkay Gundogan remains out and is joined by Nuri Sahin, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Mats Hummels, among others. With so many midfielders, in particular, unavailable, manager Jurgen Klopp was compelled to throw Shinji Kagawa straight into the starting lineup on Saturday, just days after his return to the club from Manchester United. Almost two-and-a-half years since his last appearance in a Dortmund shirt, the Japanese playmaker picked up where he left off -- playing a key pass for one goal and later getting on the score sheet himself, in what was a 3-1 win over Freiburg. After an opening-day lost to Bayer Leverkusen. Dortmund have rebounded with back-to-back wins.
“Shinji is good for us, very good, especially considering our injury problems,” Klopp said after the win, reports Borussia Dortmund’s official website. “That he even manages to score a goal is something that you only see in football. But you could also see that he still needs a bit of time. He still has a bit of catching up to do to keep pace with us.”
Prediction: Arsenal’s performance in Dortmund last season was an exemplary European display away from home against strong opposition. It was also the sort of disciplined, mature performance that made it so frustrating and unfathomable how open Arsenal were in similar challenges away at the big Premier League sides. While they avoided a similar collapse on Saturday, they still conceded two goals to add to the two shipped against Everton. With Dortmund missing Hummels and having conceded five times in their opening three matches of the season, there should be ample goal-mouth action at the Westfalenstadion. In Kagawa and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Dortmund have the players who can get in behind Arsenal’s midfield, while the impressive Alexis Sánchez could cause Dortmund’s Erik Durm particular problems. Against a Dortmund side weakened through injury and yet to hit full stride this season, Arsenal should secure a credible away point.
Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Arsenal
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1