van Persie 42
A late Ivan Perisic goal cancelled out Robin van Persie’s first-half opener to leave Arsenal with a point from their first Champions League group stage fixture of the season. Perisic’s strike overcame some steadfast Gunners defending on a night where Arsenal’s rearguard came under sustained pressure and largely rose to the challenge.
Arsenal handed Champions League debuts to Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker, while Yossi Benayoun made his first start for the Gunners since crossing London from Chelsea. Both sides were able to welcome back players from domestic suspensions, Mario Gotze for Dortmund and Alex Song and Gervinho for Arsenal.
Gotze was at the heart of everything Dortmund did in the early stages, most notably playing in Robert Lewandowski, who scuffed a shot towards goal that was cleared off the line. More worryingly for Arsenal was the ease in which Lewandowski broke the offside trap, Laurent Koscielny the guilty party in playing the forward onside.
Dortmund were aggressive and hard-working in their pressing when Arsenal had possession, unsettling Song and Arteta and preventing the Gunners building in their usual manner. Such was Dortmund’s midfield dominance that Benayoun, ostensibly playing behind van Persie in attack, found himself more than once part of a deep-lying midfield three protecting the defence, although van Persie did test Weidenfeller after good work by Benayoun, but such Arsenal attacks were a rarity.
Dortmund were punished however for not turning their pressure into something more tangible when Sebastian Kehl, the most experienced outfield player in a Dortmund shirt, conceded possession in his own half and van Persie put Arsenal ahead seconds later, giving the visitors a half-time lead.
Shinji Kagawa was a growing influence after the break, getting on the ball more often than in the first-half and running at the Arsenal defence with speed but still failing to create a clear opportunity. The same failing that cost Dortmund minutes before half-time, sloppiness in possession, reared its head again a number of times, as, perhaps nervous on what for many Dortmund players was a Champions League debut, the ball was routinely given away inside their own half.
Dortmund Coach Jurgen Klopp introduced two substitutes just after the hour, wide midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski and forward Perisic, in an attempt to increase the pressure, playing with effectively a line of four attacking midfielders behind Lewandowski and noticeably moving to a passing game with much shorter, quicker interchanges. The red shirts of Arsenal formed a stubborn defensive wall, and, on the rare occasions Arsenal pushed forward and Dortmund broke on the counter, the final ball was lacking.
Van Persie was Arsenal’s outlet while under Dortmund’s constant probing, playing with strength and technique to hold off the powerful Dortmund centre-backs, but as the half went on van Persie became increasingly isolated. Song, however, grew in stature in the face of Dortmund’s heavy pressure, but it was not enough as Perisic’s late, swinging volley eventually levelled the scores, while Szczesney had to be alert to prevent Lewandowski sealing all three points.
Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1): Weidenfeller; Piszczek, Subotic, Hummels Schmelzer; Bender, Kehl (Blaszczykowski 68); Gotze, Kagawa (Zidan 85), Grosskreutz (Perisic 69); Lewandowski
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Sczesney; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Song, Arteta; Walcott (Frimpong 77), Benayoun, Gervinho (Andre Santos 86); van Persie (Chamakh 85)
Did you know… These two sides met in the group stage of Dortmund’s last Champions League campaign, in 2002-03. Future Arsenal players Jens Lehmann and Tomas Rosicky played in a 2-1 Dortmund win over Arsenal in Germany, with Rosicky scoring twice.