When Arsenal welcome Borussia Dortmund to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday, there is likely to be plenty of empathy swirling around. Just as Arsenal have endured a massively disappointing start to their league season, while battling a continuous stream of injuries, so too have their upcoming opponents from Germany. Indeed, Dortmund’s problems have been even more pronounced. The only difference has been in the Champions League form of the two teams, which means Arsenal go into the match still needing a point to secure progress to the last 16, while Dortmund know a draw will see them top Group D.
Arsenal come into the match on the back of a demoralizing 2-1 home defeat to Manchester United, which saw them drop to eighth in the Premier League table, having won just three of their first 12 matches. Making Saturday afternoon even more regrettable for Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger was injuries to midfielder Jack Wilshere and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny that rule them out of the key clash with Dortmund. Danny Welbeck is also doubt to start, while Olivier Giroud, who returned ahead of schedule against United, cannot play against Dortmund having not been registered for the group phase. Those problems overshadow the return to the squad of Laurent Koscielny. Despite suggesting just last week that the French defender would miss another month with his long-term Achilles problem, Wenger has now revealed that he will be involved on Wednesday.
“He’s in the squad for tomorrow,” he said at his press conference on Tuesday. “It’s very good news because he was out for a while now and defensively we are short in numbers. It’s good to have his quality back.”
Struggling in the Premier League and having incredibly thrown away a 3-0 lead at home to Anderlecht three weeks ago to lose the chance to secure early qualification for the Champions League knockout phase, Wenger is once again coming under scrutiny. After Arsenal’s long trophy drought was ended last season via the FA Cup, the anticipation was that the club could now kick and challenge for the biggest honors once more. Instead frustration has come from the Emirates crowd at witnessing more of the same from the past decade. Criticism toward Wenger has even come in over the past few days from Arsenal’s second biggest shareholder Alisher Usmanov. Wenger, though, insists that solidarity is key.
“In the 18 years I have been here I have shown that I can take criticism,” Wenger said. “Everybody has the right to have an opinion. Having said that, we have values at this club. The first one is when we go through a difficult patch, we show solidarity. That is a very important one. The second one is that, when you have something to say to each other, we say it face to face. We don’t need to go to the newspapers.
“I don’t take [criticism] personally at all. It is an opinion that I respect. But when you’re from this club, you’re from this club. You’re in or out, you cannot be both.”
Dortmund also suffered a weekend to forget. First there was the relinquishing of a 2-0 lead to Paderborn to take just a single point and leave them third from bottom of the Bundesliga. It is an extraordinary state of affairs for a club that was so close to winning the Champions League just 18 months ago. Perhaps worse than the result on Saturday, though, was yet another injury and yet another injury for their key attacking player Marco Reus. The Germany international is now expected to be out until the new year. Not that Dortmund’s injury problems, which also hindered them throughout last season, end there. Mats Hummels, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Sokratis Papastathopoulos are all set to miss out against Arsenal.
Yet, while Dortmund share many of Arsenal’s problems, their fine performances in the Champions League have set them apart. Jurgen Klopp’s men have won all four games in the competition by a combined scoreline of 13-1. Against Arsenal at the Westfalenstadion in September they produced a superb display that could well have seen them win by far more than the eventual 2-0 result.
Prediction: Both sides clearly have their problems, but there is reason to believe that Dortmund go into the match with the better prospects. Dortmund have struggled against teams that are happy to sit back, negating their famed quick-breaking style. Arsenal, in contrast, are a team whose natural style plays right into Dortmund’s hands. The defeat to Manchester United once again showed up how vulnerable Arsenal are on the counter-attack as they over commit and leave inadequate defenders isolated. It is hard not to think that the presence of Koscielny ahead of schedule is more a reflection on the failings of Nacho Monreal as a makeshift center-back, rather than the improved fitness of Koscielny. The loss of Reus is a major to blow to Dortmund, but with the pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang among others, it is hard not to see Dortmund scoring. Perhaps the fact that a draw will suit the visitors will allow Arsenal to claim the point they need.
Arsenal 1-1 Borussia Dortmund
Kickoff time: 2.45 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, ESPN Deportes