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Borussia Dortmund preview: The Walking Dead

This guy is just straight-up terrifying
This guy is just straight-up terrifying
Arsenal vs. Borussia Dortmund
The Emirates Stadium, Ashburton Grove, London, Outside
Wednesday 23 November 2011, 2:45 ET
TV: FSPlus

Arsenal continue their busy post-interlull schedule as German champions Borussia Dortmund visit north London for a Champions League clash that could have major ramifications for the remainder of both clubs' seasons. As current group leaders, Arsenal have a slightly less urgent need for three points than third-place Dortmund, but expect the Gunners to push for the win to protect their place.

The two teams have had vaguely similar seasons. Both lost important midfield creators to the winds of the transfer market this summer (though I'm not about to argue the two players' departures created equivalent voids), both have important and highly valued players who are the subject of season-long transfer rumor drama (again, though, one is having a bit better season than the other). More relevant to this discussion is the fact that both Arsenal and BVB started out inauspiciously in their campaigns, only to find their feet and a stretch of vastly improved form. They haven't lost since October 19, we haven't lost since October 2. These two clubs have risen from the dead, though in Europe the Germans may still have a bit of a taste for brains.

Conveniently for all of us, I watched the Bayern Munich-Dortmund match on Saturday, to get a good feel for our upcoming opponents. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: I actually just wanted to watch that game, this is just a side benefit.) The thing I noticed most wasn't their offense or passing movement - though those were also impressive, and everyone knows the dangers of Mario Götze and Kevin Großkreutz and Shinji Kagawa (and all the rest!). What stood out most for me was their defense, much like when Arsenal faced Dortmund last at the Westfalenstadion. Just like in that game, Dortmund did a great job of tracking back on defense when Bayern had possession. When Bayern had the ball in dangerous areas in the final third, Dortmund was able to pack the box, making it hard for Munich to get the ball in on goal by ground or air. Because of the pace and passing ability in all parts of their team, Dortmund were able to do this and effectively counterattack - they could defend with most of the team and not lose their attacking force. This was particularly impressive because they were missing one of their highly-rated centerbacks, Neven Subotic, who got his orbital broken in a match with Wolfsburg a few weeks ago. They shut out a side that has a dangerous offense, at their home. Be wary, Arsenal.

Breaking down a solid defense isn't really something that's been Arsenal's forte the past few years, but this year's strike force may be versatile enough to be able to reverse this trend. With Gervinho and Theo Walcott slicing in from the wings, Robin van Persie invoking his demigod status at all parts of the pitch, and the midfield trio creating from the center, this offense (while probably not better) has enough different looks and different weapons this year to have the potential to unlock the Dortmund defense, where last year might have been a different story. On the other hand, Bayern Munich is in a lot of ways similar to Arsenal in its various dimensions of attack (from what I've seen of them, at least), so certainly the Gunners will have their work cut out for them.

In terms of team news, there's really only one change from the weekend, which is that Abou Diaby is set to make his triumphant return to the team, while Tomas Rosicky will not feature due to a thigh strain suffered in training. It's unfortunate that Rosicky, who's played very well this year, won't get the chance to face his former team, but honestly I'm quite pleased that Diaby is fit. He's had his well-known fitness issues since Dan Smith did his ankle the month before I graduated from high school (yeah, it's been that long), so it's great to see him get a bit of good luck. I'd be shocked if he started, but he may see some time as a substitute. Otherwise, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson are still out, along with longer-term injureés (this will be a thing) Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere.

If Arsenal win this match, they'll clinch advancement into the knockout stages for the twelfth consecutive season regardless of the result of the Marseille-Olympiakos match. A win and a Marseille loss would see Arsenal win the group, where a draw or loss for the Gunners raises the importance of the last match at Olympiakos. Dortmund, in third and three points off Marseille's pace, need a win to keep their Champions League ambitions seriously alive. They will be pressing for a victory.

I think we'll see a mostly first-choice side for Arsenal. Expect the three strikers and three midfielders from Norwich to start. There may be fluctuation in the defense, depending on Wenger's assessment of Laurent Koscielny's performance as right-back and Per Mertesacker's in the center of the defense. I would lean more toward a Santos-Vermaelen-Mertesacker-Koscielny line; right now, I think those are our four best defenders and while I don't think Johan Djourou to be incompetent by any means, I have more confidence in that lineup, and more confidence in Dortmund's ability to test them than I have in Fulham's on the weekend.

Projected lineup:


Koscielny - Mertesacker - Vermaelen - Santos

Song - Arteta


Walcott - van Persie - Gervinho


The match devolves quickly until Mario Gotze challenges Robin van Persie to single combat. They duel with sabres at midfield for 90 minutes, until van Persie finally disarms Gotze, winning the duel. He kicks a ceremonial ball into a goal, giving Arsenal the win and the three points. Andrei Arshavin spends the whole time laughing about something totally unrelated. Arsenal 2-1 BVB.