Borussia Dortmund overwhelmed Arsenal to begin the Champions League with a 2-0 victory at the Westfalenstadion. Drawn together in the group phase for the third time in four seasons, Dortmund had failed to beat Arsenal at home on the two previous occasions, losing 1-0 a year ago. But this time their intense pressing game and pace in transition proved far too much for a lackluster Arsenal team. A goal in each half from Ciro Immobilie and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did the damage, but the score line could easily have been far more emphatic with Dortmund, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in particular, missing a host of other chances.
Jurgen Klopp will certainly be keen for his side to show more ruthlessness going forward, but will be delighted at how his side performed, despite missing a host of players through injury, including Marco Reus, Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan. Arsenal, though, had injury problems of their own. With Mathieu Debuchy, Nacho Monreal and Calum Chambers both out, 19-year-old Hector Bellerin was thrown in for his first ever start in an Arsenal shirt. The young Spaniard’s presence was a representation of the failure of Arsene Wenger to adequately address his squad’s needs in the transfer market during the summer, as, arguably, was the performance of Mikel Arteta, who had a horrid time trying to stem the flow of Dortmund’s attacks at the base of Arsenal’s midfield. Arsenal will now be desperate for three points when they host Galatasaray at the Emirates Stadium in two week’s time.
There was much optimism for Arsenal coming into the campaign after a resounding Community Shield win over Manchester City, but the bare facts state that Wenger has now overseen just two wins in seven competitive matches this season. There have been some tough fixtures for sure, and a trip to the Westfalenstadion is one of them, but serious injuries to Olivier Giroud and now Debuchy have taken their toll and dampened the mood.
Arsenal produced its most mature and disciplined performance on the road last season to gain a win at Dortmund, but from the off on Tuesday the prospects of them repeating that result looked slim. The Champions League runners-up of two seasons ago have had their own difficulties at the start of the campaign but were in high gear from the off on this night. Arsenal struggled to simply get out of their opening half in the early exchanges, before the chances began coming thick and fast. Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who had been linked to Arsenal in the summer before Wenger decided to precede with just five senior defenders and 19-year-old new arrival Chambers, poked wide after a corner fell into his path.
Chambers was missing with tonsillitis, leaving Bellerin in at the deep end. It was not a full debut to remember for the former Barcelona pupil, but the Spain youth international was hardly helped by the far more experienced campaigners around him. Wojciech Szczesny rescued Arsenal when blocking from a clear chance for Aubameyang six yards out, before Mkhitaryan missed the first of many opportunities when before blasting over.
Yet, despite the dominance for Dortmund, Arsenal could well have taken the lead four minutes before the interval. Danny Welbeck’s arrival on deadline day created much excitement among the Arsenal faithful, but, having put a shot wide of the post when sent through on goal by Aaron Ramsey’s pass, he has now missed two clear chances in as many games for his new club to do little to alter the thinking that he is simply not a ruthless finisher.
It proved a costly miss. On the stroke of halftime, Borussia Dortmund got the goal their play richly deserved. It was a goal that will have been all too familiar to Arsenal fans. Immobile, last season’s top scorer in Serie A who was signed to try and replace the departed Robert Lewandowski, was allowed to drive through the heart of the Arsenal team from inside his own half, before too easily beating both Laurent Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs with a mixture of luck and skill. His finish was clinical and Dortmund didn’t look back.
Arsenal’s hopes of turning things around after the interval were dashed within three minutes. A lack of pressure on the ball in midfield, a high defensive line and the lack of pace possessed by Per Mertesacker at the back is not a recipe for success, especially when coming up against a forward with Aubameyang’s rare speed. The Gabon international had caused Arsenal headaches all night and they had no answer when he latched onto Kevin Grosskreutz’s through ball, went round Szczesny and finished past Koscielny on the line.
The only positive on a chastening night for Arsenal was that the defeat was not a truly emphatic one. It certainly could have been, with Aubameyang firing against the crossbar and Mkhitaryan shooting over the bar after an awful error from Arteta, before the final whistle bought an end to Arsenal’s misery.