Arsenal secured qualification for the Champions League last 16 and eased some of the mounting pressure on manager Arsene Wenger with a morale-boosting 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund at the Emirates Stadium. Needing to a point to progress for the 15th straight season, Arsenal got the perfect start when Yaya Sanogo finally notched his first goal for the club, 18 months after his arrival, but just two minutes into this contest.
A couple of hairy moments followed for a defense still hardly rock-solid, but on this occasion they held firm and effectively secured their place in the knockout phase when Alexis Sánchez curled in a brilliant second for his 12th goal since his summer arrival from Barcelona.
Borussia Dortmund had dismissed Arsenal emphatically when the two sides met in Germany in September, but, with their progress already secured, they lacked some of the intensity that had seen them previously amass a perfect Champions League record, in contrast to their struggling league form. Still, Wenger will be delighted that his side ended a run of three matches without a win, begun when they threw away a three-goal lead and the chance to confirm qualification against Anderlecht three weeks ago. The fact that they were without the injured Wojciech Szczesny, Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck from the team that lost 2-1 to at home to Manchester United at the weekend will only have made it all the more welcome. And the win means there remains an outside chance that Arsenal can top the group, with the club requiring a win away to Galatasaray in two weeks’ time, coupled with a defeat for Dortmund at home to Anderlecht to avoid encountering what has become a familiar tougher draw.
The only disappointments on an encouraging night at the Emirates was an increase in Arsenal’s already lengthy injury list, after both captain Mikel Arteta and goal-scorer Sanogo were forced off in a second half that petered out to its conclusion. It was Sanogo’s long-awaited first goal that had earlier provided what could prove to be the most significant takeaway from the performance. The moment came when he received a throw-in from the right into his body and held it up well before laying it off to Santi Cazorla and receiving an astute return that found him marginally the wrong side of last defender Matthias Ginter. But with the assistant referee’s flag unmoved, the France Under-21 international coolly slid the ball through the legs of Roman Weidenfeller.
It was the type of composed finish out of character with the raw, ungainly potential he has displayed thus far in his Arsenal career. More familiar to the Emirates fans was the way he failed to make the most of a fine chance to double Arsenal’s lead in the ninth minute. This time with time to think and open ground to run into, Sanogo never got the ball under his spell and, after a heavy-touched turn, he saw his shot comfortably blocked.
Dortmund came close to getting level when Ciro Immobile just failed to get on the end of Lukasz Piszczek’s low cross. And they probably should have equalized when, from Piszczek’s cushioned header, Henrikh Mkhitaryan again displayed his lack of ruthlessness in front of goal to allow Emiliano Martinez, making his second Champions League start, to turn behind.
But, clearly missing the injured Marco Reus and still yet to fully adapt after the loss of striker Robert Lewandowski, Jürgen Klopp’s men struggled to make real inroads. And having got in front so early, Arsenal could relax without pushing players forward in the reckless manner that has cost them dear so often, most recently against Manchester United.
Dortmund briefly raised their intensity at the start of the second half, but once the second goal arrived it was game over. The again dangerous Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had just rocked the crossbar with a dipping shot from distance when Sanchez’s accuracy was once more unnerving. The Chilean had already tested Weidenfeller with a low effort, but this time gave the Dortmund goalkeeper no chance after taking advantage of the space afforded him by Piszczek to take a touch inside onto his right foot and curl majestically into the far corner from 25 yards.
Beating a Dortmund team currently in the Bundesliga relegation zone and already assured of Champions League progress hardly warrants talk of a dramatic revival, but it should certainly ease some of the disquiet around the club ahead of a trip to West Brom on Saturday.