nal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0
Whatever you think of Arsene Wenger — and there are plenty of Arsenal fans right now who are willing to give a rather forthright answer to that question — it would take a cold man not to admire his survival instincts after a victory over Borussia Dortmund that guarantees his team a place in knockout stages of the Champions League.
In a week in which Wenger’s 18-year tenure has yet again been called into question, even by people inside the club, there was significant pressure on the Frenchman for a fixture against the Group D leaders which came after successive Premier League defeats against Swansea and Manchester United.
But goals from Yaya Sanogo and Alexis Sanchez mean Wenger’s side — despite what seemed to be a controversial team selection — can now go into this weekend’s match at West Brom thinking about progress rather than their worst-ever start to a Premier League campaign, which has garnered only 17 points from 12 games.
“We were more under pressure after Saturday but we had more urgency to defend today, especially at 1-0 up.” said Wenger.
“When you’re 1-0 down you have to chase the game. There’s a risk of being caught on the break. Today we had a different situation.
“We were highly focused to defend well together from the first to the last minute and we were very good as a team,” said Wenger, who said Mikel Arteta and Yaya Sanogo picked up injuries.
It seems to happen so often at Arsenal; just as the anti-Wenger sentiment, which always simmers just beneath the surface at the Emirates, begins to bubble over, so the team finds a result and a performance that pacifies the majority who have always remained loyal to him.
There’s a reason, then, that the Frenchman has lasted so long in north London; and it’s his knack for stopping the rot just in time and finding a way to fight back from adversity.
Wenger’s team selection to face Dortmund last night sent a nervous murmur around the Emirates. On the face of it, with Wojciech Szczesny, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott all injured and Emiliano Martinez in goal, it looked a weak selection.
Certainly, there were few inside the stadium who understood why Wenger had selected Sanogo up front — ahead of Danny Welbeck, Lukasz Podolski or Joel Campbell.
And yet it took only two minutes for his decisions to be justified.
By that time Sanogo had already scored, juggling the ball on the edge of the area before playing a neat one-two with Cazorla and calmly finishing from close in. That was the Frenchman’s first competitive goal for Arsenal in his 19th appearance.
With that kind of start however, and against a team already through to the knockout stages (and sliding down to 16th in the Bundesliga), it was little surprise that Arsenal looked comfortable for the remainder of the game, surviving a rare threat from Henrikh Mkhitaryan to dominate the second period.
The much-improved Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, one of the few reasons for optimism so far this season, almost scored a wonderful goal with a lobbed effort that cannoned back off the crossbar; and then Arsenal’s talisman, Sanchez, cut inside from a Cazorla pass to curl home a stunning effort for 2-0 in the 57th minute.
Suddenly all those anti-Wenger feelings subsided a little and Arsenal fans eased back into the comfortable reassurance of the status quo that has ruled their club for so long. They even seem to miss the fact that one more goal would have given Arsenal an even better chance of finishing in top place thanks to a better head-to-head against their German opponents (Arsenal must now win in Galatasaray and hope Dortmund lose to Andertlecht if they are to finish in first place).
Whether this victory is enough to earn Wenger yet another reprieve will remain an argument between supporters for many months to come and will inevitably depend on how Arsenal respond both on the pitch and in the transfer window in the coming months. But there is little doubting the Arsenal manager’s appetite to keep his job, or his Teflon-like ability to deflect criticism and rescue his team from crisis, just in the nick of time.
“With what he’s done for this club and for us as a group of players, every time we go in we want to work for him and get results for him,” Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey said. “Everybody’s in it together, and we know all about our qualities. Last season we had a great year, this season we wanted to build on that and hopefully we still can.”
Once again, Arsene Wenger — already 18 years and three months in — has bought himself some more time.
ARSENAL: Martinez 6, Chambers 6, Mertesacker 7, Monreal 6, Gibbs 7, Arteta 6 (Flamini 67; 6), Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Campbell 90), Ramsey 7, Cazorla 8, Sanchez 8, Sanogo 7 (Podolksi 79).
BORUSSIA DORTMUND: Weidenfeller 6, Piszczek 6, Subotic 6, Ginter 6, Schmelzer 6, Mkhitaryan 7, Bender 6, Gundogan 7, Grosskreutz 6 (Jojic 72; 5), Immobile 6 (Kagawa 61; 6), Aubameyang 7 (Ramos 61; 6).
Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)
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