DORTMUND, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 13: Robin van Persie (R) of Arsenal scores his team's first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal FC at Signal Iduna Park on September 13, 2011 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Joern Pollex/Bongarts/Getty Images)
0 - 1 Robin van Persie 42'
1 - 1 Ivan Perisic 88'
Arsenal nearly took all three points in a raging Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund tonight before a late wonder volley from Ivan Perisic drew BVB level, deservedly, in the last few minutes. Dortmund, whose pressing game and ability to move forward in attack at speed were on fully display, always looked the more threatening side, but a combination of wasteful wide play and heroic efforts from Laurent Koscielny, Alex Song, and Wojciech Szczesny kept them at bay until an unstoppable rocket found the back of the Pole's net.
Dortmund came flying out of the gates, with their first great chance coming as Robert Lewandowski latched onto a pass after Koscielny played him onside, rounded Szczesny with ease, but couldn't finish as Bacary Sagna rabbited back to clear his shot off the line. Gervinho had a chance 25 minutes in for the Gunners that Roman Weidenfeller smothered, but other than that it was one-way traffic until about 35 minutes in. Somehow Arsenal were ahead in the possession numbers as halftime approached, but they had done diddly-poop with the ball and missed a ton of simple passes (Kieran Gibbs, in particular, had a dreadful match all night), and Dortmund's time with the ball was zesty and fun like a girl you just met while on vacation in Rome.
But then things came alive. While Gervinho did his best to dribble around in circles (and while I was looking away trying to type and whine about it, stupid me), Robin van Persie put in a great tackle in the midfield, winning the ball, getting it to Theo Walcott, and taking off. Theo took two touches and made a truly wonderful pass between the two defenders that forgot about RvP, and van Persie did the rest, rifling home from 18 with his right foot. A beautiful goal, and a crucial one as halftime neared, releasing a ton of pressure on the Gunners. Halftime arrived with Arsenal up 55-45 in possession, but they had only completed 69% of their passes.
To be fair, BVB had only completed 71% of theirs, but their pressing was superb throughout the match, and especially in the first half. Arsenal were wasteful indeed, but they were always under pressure on the ball, and when they miraculously weren't, their passing was still not great. Conversely, BvB's passing number was due more to Arsenal's extremely determined defending and tackling, because one thing Arsenal were definitely NOT doing (again) today was pressing. Nor were they marking higher up the pitch. The defenders (even Gibbs) did well to track runners in the final third for the most part, though, and kept BvB out wide, where their crossing was at Arsenally bad levels, and Szczesny was imperious in his area.
The second half featured more give-and-take, but not much changed tactically. Arsenal simply executed more smoothly for stretches, although at times Dortmund were completely dominant, and it was all Arsenal could do to hold on. Mario Götze continued to loose passes and release his wide forwards. Mikel Arteta needed treatment after a clash of heads to close up a pretty gnarly cut above his ear, but from the 60th to about the 70th minute, Arsenal were adrift. Song and Koscielny were launching themselves into blocks while every member of the squad missed pass after pass.
Nothing tactically shifted until the 80th minute or so, when Emmanuel Frimpong came on for Walcott, Yossi Benayoun moving out to the left. The "added stability" didn't really calm anything down but rather seemed to add to the confusion between the mids and the defense for the last ten minutes. Still, Arsenal were hanging on.
But Dortmund were pressing as hard as ever, and in the 88th minute, they won a free kick just outside the Arsenal box. The clearance wasn't huge, and fell to Perisic 25 yards from goal. He cracked it with his left boot on the volley, and it flew in off Szczesny's far post, an unstoppable effort. Some might call it lucky, but one makes his own luck sometimes, and it was a quality hit.
Arsenal were now desperately hanging on as injury time ticked away. Szczesny made a terrific block against countryman Lewandowski in the dying moments, and then it was all over. It was not pretty (well, van Persie's goal was pretty, and so was Perisic's), but it was a point away in front of a massive crowd that many didn't expect them to take. If Arsenal can steal a win against Marseille or Olympiacos away, they will be in great shape in group F.
But there is much work to be done. For instance, here are Arsenal's top passers, with their completions and percentages for tonight (from UEFA):
Arsenal average: 29-66%.
None of those guys are attackers. None of them cracked 76%. That's a problem...but one that the team can work out with some time together hopefully. For tonight, it's a point taken from Dortmund, and that's pretty darn good.