Football Football

Bitter de javu for woeful Gunners


METERSECKER-DORTMUNDLONDON, September 15- Arsenal’s Champions League issue has never been qualification from the group stage – that has been achieved in every year since 2000.

However, following a fourth consecutive exit at the last-16 stage and a comparatively favourable group stage draw last month, hope was raised that Arsene Wenger could finally guide his side to the top of the group, the resulting expectation of an easier knockout tie sufficient reward for such endeavours.

That hope was immediately plunged into disarray after an evening on which Arsenal were frankly fortunate to not leave Germany entirely degraded.

Borussia Dortmund will be satisfied by the manner of their win in the Westfalenstadion, of course, but their margin of victory should have been far greater.

Arsenal, for their part, were woeful. If this was a night on which to test Wenger’s theory that the club’s summer spending constituted satisfactory business, the manager should hope that he at least receives a mark for spelling his own name correctly.

For periods of the first half, the gap between the two sides was nothing short of embarrassing.

Wenger was forced to hand Hector Bellerin his first start at right-back in the absence of Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers, but supporters should resist the temptation to plead misfortune too strongly – Jurgen Klopp’s injury list includes the likes of Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan, Nuri Sahin, Oliver Kirch, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Mats Hummels and Lukasz Piszczek.

Wenger doesn’t have a monopoly on hard luck stories, and I know which list I would rather be without.

Dortmund attempted 15 shots before half-time, Arsenal surviving almost until the break through a blend of wasteful finishing and the excellence of Wojciech Szczesny, with at least two parts luck added for good measure.

Whilst the presence of debutant Bellerin may well have hampered Arsenal defensively (and the Spaniard was guilty of leaving Kevin Grosskreutz free on occasion) it was the inability of the midfield to keep possession that crippled any hope of gaining a foothold in the match.

Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey, so often deserving of praise this season, lost possession 23 times between them in the first half alone.

By the end of the night this figure had reached 44 in 152 combined minutes.

With Mathieu Flamini also ruled out with injury, Mikel Arteta was the only protection for a shaky, nervous-looking defence, but he barely merited such a term.

At 32, Arteta is now an ideal back-up holding midfielder for a side hoping to finish in the top four – the primary option for a side hoping to keep Dortmund quiet (not to mention win the Premier League title) he is not.

Two tackles and 11 of 56 passes misplaced only hint at his inability to deal with the oncoming storm – it is not Arteta’s fault he was left isolated in such a role.

As if to add insult to excuses of injury, before Ciro Immobile had finally give the home side the lead even Danny Welbeck had fluffed his latest audition to make those that predicted ’embarrassment’ and ‘humiliation’ for Louis van Gaal a little less regret over such brash statements.

Whilst Welbeck’s chip against the post against Manchester City on Saturday at least indicated a degree of confidence to attempt such a finish, his shot dragged wide of Roman Weidenfeller’s left-hand post signalled the opposite. Improvement in such situations are needed.

If the first-half was distressing, the second threatened to become almost humiliating for the Arsenal fans that had made the trip to Germany.

It took less than four minutes for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to add the second goal, Szczesny adding his own turn to An Evening Of Slapstick by slipping as he came to meet the Gabonese striker, allowing Aubameyang to slide into an empty net.

The only blessed relief was that both he and Henrikh Mkhitaryan missed presentable chances to rub English noses into the dirt.

On a night providing almost no discernible cause for cheer, the performance of Jack Wilshere at least displayed the elements of fight and desire sadly lacking in many around him.

One hopes that he will lead, rather than be subject to, the inevitable dressing room dissection of such disappointment.

Before the game, Wenger admitted that he was now in a position “where we do not want more” when referring to Arsenal’s injury problems, but the manager himself is at fault for the club’s lack of options so early in the season.

On the evidence of Tuesday in the Westfalenstadion, that appears a decision bordering on negligence. After their first group game in this season’s Champions League, this feels like déjà vu all over again.

With Arsene Wenger, it’s beginning to feel like it was ever thus. Barring dramatic improvement, Arsenal are playing for second place again.

-David Storey/