Arsenal’s new breed show they have the appetite for battle
Deserved draw in Dortmund can give Arsenal a lift
Arsene Wenger’s reaction perhaps said it all. High up in the stands at Signal Iduna Park because of his touchline ban, as the final whistle sounded the Frenchman briefly, but noticeably, celebrated.
Arsenal may have been denied all three points in Germany by Ivan Perisic’s fine 88th minute equaliser, but their performance had already spoken volumes and a point was certainly a satisfactory evening’s work against the Bundesliga champions.
In truth, a win would have been overly fortunate. The Gunners were largely outplayed by their hosts but yet came close to pulling off the classic smash and grab European away performance.
But this was arguably the toughest assignment of the group stage, and the way Wenger’s new-look side stuck to their task gave great encouragement.
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Certainly it bodes well for their European fortunes. Olympiakos, beaten 1-0 at home by Marseille in the other group game on Tuesday, will be the visitors to the Emirates at the end of the month and, on this evidence, can expect to meet an Arsenal side that have rediscovered their zest.
“We battled really hard and we knew it would be a hard, hard game,” said assistant manager Pat Rice, elevated to the top job for the night and looking almost as uncomfortable under the media glare as Wenger did up in the stands.
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“To be able to defend well is a high-quality skill and that is something all of our players did this evening. I shouldn’t think many teams will come to Dortmund and beat them and we were very, very close to doing that.”
After such a difficult start to the campaign, Wenger had arrived in Germany with Saturday’s confidence-boosting win fresh in the memory and a squad that was truly competitive for the first time this season.
Suddenly the Frenchman seemed to have options galore, so much so that he could leave Aaron Ramsey, ever-present so far this season, out of the 18-man travelling party altogether.
Instead he fielded a central midfield pairing of Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun just in front of Alex Song that bristled with both experience and creativity. On the flanks Gervinho, his domestic suspension having rendered him almost invisible, was restored while Theo Walcott was preferred to Saturday’s matchwinner Andrey Arshavin.
And then up front there was Robin van Persie – the captain certainly played his part with his goal three minutes before the break, first winning the ball from his opposite number, Dortmund captain Sebastian Kehl, then striding on to Walcott’s perfectly-weighted return pass to crash it into the net.
It was a lead Arsenal scarcely deserved, with the hosts having created the better chances.
In the second half Arsenal defended tigerishly and at times heroically. If there was perhaps one negative on the night it was the performance of Per Mertesacker.
The big German looked a little off the pace and ponderous at times. In comparison Laurent Koscielny alongside him was superb, while the central trio of Arteta, Benayoun and Song worked their socks off before fading a little late on ahead of Perisic’s leveller.
“After a goal like that we will take a draw,” said Wojciech Szczesny, whose vital late block from his compatriot Robert Lewandowski at least staved off what would have been a dispiriting and undeserved defeat.
“Usually we would be gutted to concede with three minutes to go but we defended a lot in the second half. They probably deserved a draw,” added the goalkeeper.
It could prove a valuable point in a group which looks set to test Arsenal’s new-found resolve to the full. On Tuesday’s evidence, they are up for the battle.