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Dortmund Preview: Back to Germany, a Happy Hunting Ground

13/14: Dortmund v Arsenal - Aaron Ramsey

Arsenal’s last visit to Dortmund was fruitful

After a long wait, the UEFA Champions League is back on our screens and every Arsenal fan would focus on tonight’s match against Borussia Dortmund, a team the Gunners know so well after playing against them in two of the last three seasons. In the 2011/12 campaign, Dortmund were shockingly knocked out of a group that contained Arsenal, Olympique Marseille and Olympiakos but last season, the German outfit topped the group with Arsenal dropping to second place while SSC Napoli had to make do with a Europa League berth.

Arsenal crashed out yet again in the First Knockout Phase to Bayern Munich (again) while Dortmund eased past Zenit before losing to the eventual winners, Real Madrid, in the quarterfinals. Arsenal’s away record in the Champions League is enviable with five wins in their last outings on the road but this season, the Gunners are yet to hit the ground running in the Premier League. After winning a nervy curtain raiser against Crystal Palace, the Gunners have drawn their last three games while Dortmund has won four of their last five fixtures.

This will be Arsenal’s fourth visit to Dortmund, having lost, drawn and won on their three previous visits. The Gunners would have to be weary of the threat Henrikh Mkhitaryan would pose and they would be mindful of the Armenian that scored the opening goal in the 2-1 loss to Dortmund at the Emirates. The game clincher was scored by the dangerous Robert Lewandowski but the Pole has moved to FC Bayern. However, he has been replaced by Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos and both forwards have done quite well this season.

The Gunners travel to Germany with a lot of issues to contend with ranging from the meager defensive numbers as well as the niggling problems – such as the defending from set pieces-that continues to be a thorn in Arsenal’s flesh. Wojciech Szczesny was present with Arsene Wenger in his press conference and the goalie has stated that the club is working on set pieces,

“We do realize that set pieces have been a weakness for us recently. We’ve conceded [a couple] of goals already and it’s very early in the season.

“We did very well last season on set pieces and we’re a bit disappointed. We’ve been working on it in training so hopefully we’ll put that right on Tuesday.”

There is also the issue of the zonal marking that has been deliberated on as many fans believe that the club needs to change its approach, especially when defending corners. Per Mertesacker has shared his thoughts on the issue and I’m hoping that he and his teammates would let their actions on the pitch do the talking rather than off it.

To injuries, the home side will be without the services of Jakub Blaszczykowski, Ilkay Gundogan, Oliver Kirch, Nuri Sahinand Marco Reus, who are all still nursing injuries. There are also doubts over Mats Hummels fitness as he recently picked up a muscle strain but he’s odds on to face a late fitness test to ascertain his fate. The Gunners on the other hand, will be without Matt Debuchy and there are more problems at the back as Calum Chambers is suffering from tonsillitis while Nacho Monreal didn’t even travel with the squad due to a back problem.

With Chambers probably unlikely to start, the game could see Hector Bellerin make an introduction to the big stage and one can hope that he’d be able to cope with the rigors of the big time. However, the Gunners can take confidence in their outstanding record in Germany that has seen them win five and draw fire in their last 15 outings.

To team news, David Ospina would have to wait a little bit longer to make his Arsenal debut as I see Szczesny guarding the sticks. The Pole is yet to keep a clean sheet this season but he can take solace in the fact that his last visit to the Signal Iduna Park saw him go back home with a clean sheet in the bag. The defensive line literally picks itself with Kieran Gibbs on the left, the Mertesielny Axis of Awesome in the middle and Bellerin on the right – provided that Chambers isn’t deemed fit enough to start.

In midfield, it would be a relief seeing the captain, Mikel Arteta, return to the fray in place of Mathieu Flamini but many fans would be waiting to see if Mesut Ozil gets the nod ahead of Santi Cazorla despite his shambolic outing last weekend because it’s clearly obvious that Aaron Ramsey and the in-form Jack Wilshere will play through the middle. Alexis Sanchez would maraud the right flank while Danny Welbeck spearheads the attack.

Form

Dortmund: W W L W W (4th in Bundesliga)

Arsenal: W W D D D (7th in Premier League)

Injuries

Dortmund: Oliver Kirch (thigh), İlkay Gündoğan (back), Nuri Şahin (knee), Marco Reus (ankle), Jakub Błaszczykowski (muscle tear), Mats Hummels (muscle)

Arsenal:  Mathieu Debuchy (ankle), Nacho Monreal (back), Yaya Sanogo (hamstring), Serge Gnabry (thigh), Olivier Giroud (ankle)

Predicted Lineups

Borussia Dortmund 4-2-3-1 football formationArsenal 4-1-4-1 football formation

This would be a nervy encounter and both teams would show a lot of respect to each other. I expect a tight game and it would probably end as a 1-1 draw.

Here’s to Germany, a happy hunting ground.

Sayonara.

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Dortmund 0 Arsenal 1: If Ramsey Doesn’t Inspire You, Nothing Else Will

13/14: Dortmund v Arsenal - Aaron Ramsey

Ramsey does it again!

Aaron Ramsey has been a class act all season long and it’s heartwarming to see the Welsh Dragon in super hot form, as he marked his 200th appearance for Arsenal with his 26th goal for the club. It’s worth noting that Ramsey has scored 11 goals in his last 16 games for the club and with the season still in its infant stage, the bookmakers are tipping the Welshman to hit the 20-goal mark (a la Frank Lampard) this season.

The title of today’s article is inspired from an article on Canon Crested with the same name, as the blogger, Simon Seez, shares his thoughts about how Ramsey’s situation from his bright fledgling Arsenal career to his Shawcrossation that halted his progress abruptly. Shortly after recovering, he was burdened with the ominous task of replacing Cesc Fabregas and $amir Na$ri which turned out to be a burden too large to bear but with the injection of Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil, as well as protection from Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini, Ramsey has been liberated and Arsenal is reaping the dividends.

It’s an amazing article by Canon Crested and trust me, it’s worth a read.

Both teams had notched up good commanding victories over the weekend so the stage was set for the clash of two tactical titans but the onus on the home side to get a victory. They had defeated the Gunners away and had not lost to any English side since the days Merlin was the Chief Wizard at Camelot. But as they say, records are made to be broken!

Shortly after Per Mertesacker had done well to intercept a Marco Reus cross that was meant for Robert Lewandowski, Reus floated another cross that was headed back into Arsenal’s danger area by either Ramsey or Sven Bender, as both players went for the same ball but the loose ball was attacked by Neven Subotic and it just crept wide. Kevin Grosskreutz shimmed past Kieran Gibbs and lofted a cross for Kuba but he didn’t wrap his foot around the ball to make good contact.

At the dying moments of the first 45 minutes, Lewandowski and Kuba combined well to tee up Mkhitaryan whose shot missed by a lick of paint with Wojciech Szczesny rooted to the spot. The Dortmund onslaught continued at the start of the second half with Reus getting on the end of a Grosskreutz cross but his header was parried to safety by Szczesny in goal. Kuba had a cross that was taken away to safety but it rolled effortlessly into Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s path but the Armenian schemer’s one-timed volley killed a bird in the sky.

Dortmund hit the Gunners on the break and a swift attack saw Kuba bear down on goal but his goal-bound shot was parried by Szczesny which fell kindly into Reus’ path but the winger was flagged offside so his goal was disallowed. Shortly afterwards, Mkhitaryan dinked a pass to Nuri Sahin but the Turkish enforcer was offside as well.

Against the run of play with Arsenal’s first meaningful attack, Tomas Rosicky showed great anticipation to win the ball from Bender before feeding Mesut Ozil on his right. The German maestro lofted the ball into the box and Olivier Giroud contended in the air against Subotic and cushioned the ball for an onrushing Aaron Ramsey that connected with a diving header to nod the ball past Roman Weidenfeller in goal.

Lewandowski shrugged off a challenge from Gibbs before drilling the ball into the box. Reus arrived on the scene before Laurent Koscielny and he tried to blast the ball towards the goal with a one-time shot but his miscued his effort.

Giroud held up play brilliantly and noticed Ramsey on his far side. The timing and execution of Giroud’s key pass to Ramsey was perfect, the Welshman’s control and balance to get the ball down into his stride was top-notch but the finish failed to match the lovely buildup as the goalie made himself big to parry the shot into safety.

A moment of controversy almost arrived when Lewandowski dived in the box as if he was shot by a sawn-off shotgun but Arteta did well to easy the ball out for a goal kick while Lewandowski hit the deck like a sack of rotten potatoes. Santi Cazorla lofted a dead ball into the danger area and Mertesacker got to the ball before Weidenfeller but his header missed the cross bar by a whisker.

As he has done so fondly this season, Arsene Wenger summoned Nacho Monreal for Cazorla to offer some protection to Gibbs as Dortmund had brought in the speed demon, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, for Kuba. Ramsey used his intelligence to win a free kick and when the dead ball was swung into Dortmund’s box, Weidenfeller went for the ball and clattered Koscielny.

Late on, Wenger killed off the game by bringing on Nicklas Bendtner for Giroud and the captain of the Reserves, Thomas Vermaelen, for a brilliant Rosicky. The Czech covered every blade of grass for his team and harried his opponents further up the pitch. Rosicky may be 33 but his football age is really 31 as he said a few months ago.

The home side put up a late surge and Lewandowski tried to con the ref into giving him a penalty after a tussle with Mertesacker but Dortmund’s pleas fell on deaf ears. At the sound of the final whistle, the elation of the players and fans alike knew no bounds as the Gunners had turned up the screw to put up a class act against Dortmund.

Player Ratings

Szczesny (7) was comfortable in goal and must be delighted to have secured another clean sheet.

Sagna (7) worked very hard in defense and kept Marco Reus at bay for the entire game.

Gibbs (7) did really well to return back to full fitness after the scare during the weekend and defended really well.

Mertesacker (8) was a colossus in defense, making a lot of vital interceptions and he kept Lewandowski in a cage and threw away the keys.

Koscielny (8) was equally exceptional at the back, working hard for his team and making some vital blocks.

Arteta (8) put up another matured performance and controlled the tempo of the game for his team.

Ramsey (9)  worked tirelessly for his team and must have been proud to score another match winning goal, He was even unlucky not to get a second.

Cazorla (6) put up a rather subdued performance as you’d expect from a player on the road to full fitness.

Rosicky (9) was excellent up the pitch, holding up play and tackling his opponents further up the pitch.

Ozil (6) didn’t really come to the party but he had a hand in the match winner.

Giroud (7) linked up well with his teammates but didn’t get enough service as he would have hoped.

Monreal (7) came in and offered protection to Gibbs as he was instructed.

As you would expect, Wenger was rather effusive in his praise for his players in after winning such a “big game” and he had some words to say about the “orchestra” vs. “heavy metal” football, citing that his team actually played some “light metal”.

On Ramsey,

“He just shows how difficult it is to have assessment on players because one year ago everyone said ‘yes, but Ramsey cannot score goals. He’s in box in the right positions, but he can’t score’. This season he scores game after game. I was always positive with him because when you watched the games again he was always in situations where he could be dangerous. This season he has gained confidence and he has an unbelievable engine to go from box to box. Confidence and his ability of course makes him a dangerous player.”

This has been one hell of a break through season for the lad and it can only get better for him. His hard work and perseverance has seen him leap to greater heights and at just 23, Ramsey’s future is so bright, he’ll need some shades on. His story can be related to real life situations we face and the moral remains that hard work get really get you far in life.

If Ramsey doesn’t inspire you, nothing else will.

Sayonara.

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Dortmund Preview: Avoiding Defeat is Paramount

Arsenal face a very stern test tonight as they come up against a team in scorching form in the Bundesliga and Champions League. Borussia Dortmund are on fire now with just a loss in their last six games and its also worth noting that they have won all the home fixtures (eight in total) in all competitions this season. Arsenal on the other hand, are unbeaten in 14 away matches in all competitions since recording a famous win at Bayern Munich in March.

Dortmund have been chasing Bayern Munich frantically in the Bundesliga and are just a point behind the Bavarians at the summit of the German first division. They have sealed victories in their last four fixtures, which includes a narrow 2-1 win over Arsenal at the Emirates and last weekend, their hot streak continued as they pummeled VFB Stuttgart with six goals.

Borussia Dortmund’s manager, Jurgen Klopp, will leave no stone unturned to get the better of Arsenal again when they visit the Signal Iduna Park tonight. He had spoken about his admiration for Arsenal’s gaffer, Arsene Wenger, and poured cold water on any hopes of managing Arsenal in the near future. According to Klopp, Arsenal was more like an orchestra, that treats the ball like a delicacy but he prefers heavy metal music and this was on display when his team visited the Emirates with their heavy pressing game and high octane football.

At home, there have been over 2.5 goals scored in six of Borussia Dortmund’s last seven games in the Champions League (including qualifiers) so the Gunners have to be very mindful of the attacking threat they pose because they have a lot of talented individuals that will hurt the Gunners given half a chance.

With Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli all on six points, tonight’s set of fixtures will be key as every result will set the tone for the destinies of these sides vying for qualification into the latter stages of the competition. If Arsenal manages to get a draw against Borussia Dortmund and Napoli beat Marseille, it would leave Napoli sitting pretty with nine points and they’ll still have a home clash against the Gunners in San Paolo, Naples.

This would mean that the Gunners would face a daunting task of defeating Napoli in Italy as well as making sure they dispatch Marseille at home to seal qualification. However, losing to Dortmund will put the Gunners in a mightily precarious situation and they would be hoping for Marseille to get some points off Napoli, which seems rather unlikely if you judge the performances of both sides thus far in the Champions League this season.

Callejon scored against Marseille in France

Napoli are likely to win at home to Marseille, so whoever loses this match could be left three points behind staring the Europa League in the face. Arsenal are on great form, but so are Dortmund, who are equally on fire following a 6-1 drubbing of VfB Stuttgart at the weekend. The Germans taught Arsenal a lesson a fortnight ago at the Emirates, and with the home advantage this time they will be even more likely to win.

The Gunners are in high spirits ahead of the game with Mikel Arteta stating that his team isn’t inferior to Dortmund, while Arsenal’s Man on Fire, Aaron Ramsey, has promised that the team is going to be street wise against the German outfit.

To injury news, Dortmund will be without their key defender, Matts Hummels, that suffered a thigh injury in the win agaianst Stuttgart but with Neven Subotic rested, he’ll be odds on to play alongside the Greek powerhouse, Sokratis Papathathopoulos, that scored twice against Stuttgart. Dortmund would also be without club captain Sebastian Kehl (ankle), despite the midfielder returning to training, while Lukasz Piszczek (groin) and Ilkay Gundogan (back) will definitely miss out.

At Arsenal, Jack Wilshere remains sidelined with an ankle injury while Kieran Gibbs has been declared fit and available to play despite his muscular problems against Liverpool last weekend. However, the usual suspects are still out which include Mathieu Flamini (groin), Theo Walcott (abdomen), Lukas Podolski (hamstring), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby (both knee), while young winger Serge Gnabry is struggling with an ankle injury.

I expect both sides to start the game with the following lineups below,

Borussia Dortmund 4-2-3-1 football formationArsenal 4-2-3-1 football formation
Avoiding defeat will be paramount for the Gunners.

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Sayonara.

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