Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia, Deutchland
(Not) TV: Arsenal Player, also foxsoccer.tv for subscribers
Arsenal start the second stage of their European campaign tomorrow as they travel to face the German champions on their ground. Perhaps the best competition the Gunners will face in this stage and certainly the club most underrated by their coefficient, this will doubtless be a tough battle for Arsenal.
Here's what I had to say about Dortmund just after they were drawn into our group:
Finally, there's Borussia Dortmund, the team from western Germany that have stolen the hearts and imaginations of much of the SB Nation soccer writing staff, myself included. Der BVB won the Bundesliga last year, finishing seven points clear of Bayer 04 Leverkusen and ten up on Bayern Munich. Because of their UEFA coefficients, Munich were in Pot 1 with us, and Dortmund were in Pot 4. So it goes.
One of Dortmund's more important players, Nuri Şahin, left the team this summer during Real Madrid's now-annual raid of the Bundesliga, but unlike Werder Bremen and Mesut Özil last year, Sahin's exit probably won't spell disaster for Dortmund, mainly because they have more than one awesome player. Still in the squad are perennially-Arsenal-linked defender Neven Subotić, attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa (who missed half of last season with a broken foot), and defender Mats Hummels, who according to his Wikipedia is sixth on the Castrol Performance Index (which is a rating system for footballers and not, as I assumed, evidence that Dortmund have a car in their defense).
Be sure, though, to watch wunderkind Mario Götze. He's the latest midfielder to get the "next Messi" label, and their managing director has said basically that he wouldn't sell him for "oil fields." No word yet on whether we've tried to send them £5 million and Squillaci for him.
Shockingly our bid for Götze failed; I don't know why Dortmund didn't want Squillaci. Anyway, Dortmund have started this season a bit inauspiciously - they're 2-1-2 presently, with one of their two losses coming at home on Saturday to Hertha Berlin, who spent last year in the 2. Bundesliga after finishing last in the top flight in the 2009-2010 season. This means two things: first, that Dortmund are not wholly invincible at home, though they did have a spectacular record at Signal Iduna Park last year; second, that they'll most likely be out for blood tomorrow, with something to prove.
About Dortmund's home record: like I said, it was pretty much as good as a supporter could hope for last year. They allowed eight (EIGHT!) goals in home matches in the Bundesliga, and lost only one home match all year - the first one, against eventual league runners-up Bayer Leverkusen. I would attribute part of this to Dortmund being a really good team last year, but a good portion of it to their supporters. Dortmund play in the largest park in Germany, with a capacity of 80,720 (both seated and standing) 67,000 since UEFA doesn't allow standing-room for matches. That's a lot of people. I think it's safe to assume that the crowd is going to be energized for a Champions League match, and that it's going to be pretty loud. That's something Arsenal are going to need to be prepared for, particularly the defense as communication will be tougher than normal.
In addition to the loud noises certain to be made by around 80,000 Germans, the team must be prepared for the football stylings of one other German in particular; that is, the aforementioned Mario Götze. Earlier today Arsenal Report shared some stats from Who Scored (and thus Opta) which frightened me deeply, and which I will now pass along so that they may frighten you as well. Götze has three assists and a goal in four appearances so far this year. He also leads Dortmund with 2.8 key passes a game and 4.3 dribbles, and he attempts more tackles and interceptions than left back Marcel Schmelzer or centerback Neven Subotic. Götze is just a really good player all-around, and he will absolutely have to be well-defended if Arsenal are to have a legitimate chance of winning the match. He surely is not Dortmund's only weapon, but he is their most deadly.
So now on to the Arsenal. There's one new injury issue to deal with, as Aaron Ramsey took a hit to the ankle during the Swansea match and has not traveled to Germany as part of the squad. Carl Jenkinson, Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have also been left out of the traveling group, though no injury news has surfaced - this then seems more of a strategic move than a health issue. Vermaelen, Wilshere, Diaby, and Squillaci all remain on the long-term injury list.
For the second match running, though, there are reinforcements coming. Gervinho and Alex Song finally return from suspension (though since this is a Champions League match, they were always going to be available) and both will likely see the pitch for the first time since the second leg of the Udinese tie. This complicates the squad selection a bit, but it's a bit nice to finally start to have this problem again.
With all that, here's my predicted Arsenal XI:
Sagna - Mertesacker - Koscielny - Santos
Arteta - Arshavin
Walcott - van Persie - Gervinho
With only two days between Swansea and Dortmund, I think we see Andre Santos replace Kieran Gibbs on the left side of defense, making his Arsenal debut. Johan Djourou could conceivably replace either centerback, but I doubt it - Koscielny is probably our best healthy man at the center of defense, and Per Mertesacker has a lot of experience with Dortmund and the Bundesliga, so I think they will get the start. Song likely still has precedence over Emmanuel Frimpong when both are available, and the same goes for Gervinho with basically every other option on the left wing.
With Ramsey injured there's a bit of a hole in the midfield that could be filled in a couple of ways. We could definitely see both Song and Frimpong start, as Arsene Wenger did at Udinese. Yossi Benayoun could also see action, though I feel this is less likely. Since the opportunity is here, though, I would really like to see Andrey Arshavin get the start in the central attacking midfielder role. He can do more damage (the good kind) here than any of the other available players, and with Mikel Arteta and Meerkat sending danger pass after danger pass forward to the first-choice trio up top, there could certainly be some goals in the Arsenal attack.
Prediction: Der BVB strike first via Shinji Kagawa, and Kevin Grosskreutz gets another for Dortmund. Arsenal peg two back, from Arshavin and Walcott, and hold on for a loud draw and an important point. The Arsenal defense blames both goals on this video. Dortmund 2-2 Arsenal.
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