Arsene Wenger will be glad to have got the hardest of Champions League group stage openers out of the way. At least he hopes.
As the Borussia Dortmund players exited the rocking Westfalenstadion having comfortably outplayed his Arsenal side, it is the only crumb of comfort he may cling to on his flight home.
Ciro Immobile and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang delivered the telling blows either side of half-time but it was a scoreline which flattered Arsenal.
It was also the Gunners’ first defeat in 11 outings on the opening week of the Champions League group stages, but the manner of this beating may have inflicted wounds far deeper than those several of Wenger’s squad currently nurse at London Colney.
Jurgen Klopp’s side looked to examine the depleted Arsenal back-line from the very first whistle. The hosts were quick to rediscover their appetite for this competition, while the north Londoners were rash, insular and hasty in possession from the off.
The visitors were fortuitous not to concede an early penalty when Henrikh Mkhitaryan was judged to have dived over the challenge of Mikel Arteta after five minutes by Portuguese referee Olegário Benquerença. The incident cost the Armenian midfielder a yellow card for simulation, but it set the tone for an opening half which saw Dortmund pepper Wojciech Szczęsny’s goal with no fewer than 15 attempts.
Immobile, the man assigned the task of replacing Robert Lewandowski following the Poland international’s summer move to Bayern Munich, found space down the left and then the unmarked Aubameyang, but he failed to divert his shot either side of Szczęsny. Moments later, Mkhitaryan blasted over after the Polish keeper could only palm the lively Aubameyang’s cross into his path.
Kieran Gibbs, recalled after missing Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Manchester City, looked to take the game to the hosts himself with a searching run and cross that narrowly evaded Danny Welbeck at the far post. It was one of few moments of respite for Arsenal in a first-half that was largely dominated by the side that finished runners-up in the final two seasons ago.
Alexis Sanchez dawdled on the ball, Sebastian Kehl snapped into the challenge, easily dispossessing the Chilean before setting off Aubameyang for another shot which rippled the side netting. It was symptomatic of Dortmund’s performance; penetrative in possession, hustlers without it.
Welbeck ploughed a lonely furrow throughout the opening period, but Arsenal always had the look of a side intent on replicating the raid which saw them return to London having ground out a 1-0 victory when the two sides met in Germany last year. The incisiveness of Aaron Ramsey that night wasn’t matched by Welbeck, as the England forward snatched at his solitary first-half chance, having been released by the Welshman. It would prove decisive.
Immobile latched onto a lofted forward pass which instantly took the Arsenal midfield out of the game. The Italian ate the green grass ahead of him and backed Laurent Koscielny into his own penalty box before quick feet gave him the required space to plant a low right-foot shot beyond the statuesque Szczęsny.
This was no happy homecoming for the German contingent in Wenger’s outclassed side and Klopp sensed the uncertainty in his English foes, emerging for the second half with the more defensive Kehl withdrawn and Matthias Ginter in his stead. With greater directness, their lead was doubled within minutes of the restart.
Kevin Großkreutz released Aubameyang who rounded the hapless Szczęsny and left Koscielny in a crumbled heap on the goal line having clattered the post in his desperate attempt to keep the ball out. Arsenal needed to gather themselves, instead the yellow wall just kept on rolling forward, squeezing the life out of their beaten opponents.
Aubameyang’s performance was the chalk to Welbeck’s cheese. The latter scuffed at a chance presented to him, while his Gabonian counterpart had the swagger of a man who knew he had the beating of the bedraggled defenders he would leave in his wake once more moments later, before seeing his shot clip the crossbar.
Mesut Ozil was withdrawn alongside Ramsey on the hour-mark following another ineffectual performance. Surely a period out of the side awaits the out of sorts Ozil, who provided as little gumption to protect Champions League fresher Hector Bellerin on the right-hand side as guile in the attacking third.
This was always likely to provide Arsenal with the stiffest of opening assignments, but they were guilty of lacking application as much as any creative spark or defensive solidity which was the main topic for debate post kick-off. A chastening night for the visitors was epitomised by Szczęsny narrowly avoiding embarrassment for a heavy touch, and Lukas Podolski’s delayed arrival off the substitutes bench after misplacing a shin pad.
Mkhitaryan might have had a hat-trick on another night, and continued to spurn the chance to compound Arsenal’s misery by wastefully lifting another shot over after a lapse from Arteta, but such profligacy could not have been afforded to Welbeck, who continued to demonstrate the type of poor finishing which has earned him many detractors by emulating Mkhitaryan’s effort. A week after leading England with such aplomb in Switzerland, the honeymoon period is now over for Welbeck, and Arsenal – so often content in the past with finishing group runners-up – have now been dealt the defeat which their performances in the opening month of the campaign has warranted. Wenger will hope his side heeds this rude awakening.