Arsenal suffer late blow after Van Persie's quick thinking

Borussia Dortmund 1 Arsenal 1: Wenger's men impress before stunning goal ensures Dortmund snatch home point

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The Independent Football

In Germany's industrial heartland Arsenal showed the first signs of forging a new team last night, going within two minutes of defeating the Bundesliga champions in their own intimidating arena. If it was not quite a coming of age there were signs that Arsène Wenger's panicked deadline-day restructuring may bear fruit.

Although the timing of Ivan Perisic's equaliser meant the result felt like a defeat, once they had time to reflect Pat Rice confirmed Arsenal were happy with a draw. Even that seemed unlikely during a shambolic first half-hour and while Arsenal grew in confidence after Robin van Persie gave them a 42nd-minute lead, goalkeeper Wojech Szczesny was again their most important player. With Marseilles defeating Olympiakos in Greece, Group F is already shaping up to be a three-horse race and this may prove to be a vital point.

What will please Wenger, who was forced to watch from the stands due to his Uefa ban, is the improvement his team showed during the match, especially defensively. Bacray Sagna and Laurent Koscielny stood out at the back, Alex Song grew in strength and the bravery Mikel Arteta showed in one challenge augered well for the spirit Arsenal will require to meet the season's challenges. That said, had Szczesny not defied his international team-mate Robert Lewandowski several times Arsenal would have lost.

Wenger had described the Westfalenstadion as the temple of German football and it was hard to disagree as the ground, whose towering cantilever stands rise steeply from the touchline, filled up with worshippers. The huge Gelbe Wand, like Villa Park's Holte End, only bigger, was indeed a wall of yellow. As kick-off approached it also became a wall of sound as Borussia Dortmund celebrated their return to the Champions League after a nine-year absence.

In such an atmosphere cool heads were required and Wenger opted for Yossi Benayoun's experience rather than Emmanuel Frimpong's youthful energy. Arteta dropped back to partner Song. In central defence the inclusion of Per Mertesacker made up a trio of deadline-day signings.

Picking and briefing the team was the limit of Wenger's influence as this match, his 137th coaching in the Champions League, was the first tie of his two-match touchline ban, imposed for breaching the conditions of his previous ban. Wenger cut a frustrated figure in the executive seats between chairman Peter Hill-Wood and chief executive Ivan Gazidis.

Far below him Dortmund's excitable coach, Jürgen Klopp, was making his debut in the competition. He was able to recall the Germany international Sebastian Kehl to stiffen the midfield and teenage tyro Mario Gotze, of whom great things are expected.

The early exchanges were even. Gervinho was denied by goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller and from the counter-attack Kevin Grosskreutz drove over. Three minutes later a simple ball over the top released Shinja Kagawa but he also blazed over.

An unusually bouncy pitch seemed to hamper these striking efforts, as it did both teams' attempts to build passing moves. Dortmund adapted first and should have taken the lead in the 10th minute. The Germans' attacking movement troubled Arsenal and Gotze's clever dinked pass freed Lewandowski as he angled a run behind Arsenal's centre-halves. The Pole skipped round Szczesny, but Sagna got back to hack his shot off the line. Later in the half Lewandowski had another good chance when another Pole, full-back Lukasz Piszczek, picked him out with a right-wing cross. It was a free header, but Lewandowski headed straight into the grateful Szczesny's hands.

Arsenal's problem, an unfamiliar one for them until recently, was keeping the ball. With Arteta and Benayoun struggling to have an impact on the game, defensively or offensively, the forwards were feeding off scraps, but when they did get possession it was squandered. Gervinho in particular kept running into traffic. He did, though, set Theo Walcott free midway through the half but the Englishman was slow to shoot and the impressive Mats Hummels brushed him off the ball.

Gradually Arsenal settled. The back four held a better line, catching Dortmund offside, and the midfielders began to create. Benayoun, with a smart firs-time pass, found Van Persie in the 33rd minute but the captain rushed his shot. The lesson was learnt. Three minutes from the break Van Persie, leading by example, closed down Kehl and intercepted his slack pass. As the ball rolled to Walcott Van Persie turned and sprinted forward. Walcott immediately released him and Van Persie, having steadied himself, shot past Weidenfeller. The stadium fell quiet for the first time in the evening, except for the pocket of suddenly delirious Arsenal supporters.

Dortmund came at Arsenal after the restart. It was all hands to the pump at the back with Arteta bloodied making a brave aerial challenge with Hummels. Gotze, who was living up to the hype, weaved past several challenges before being halted on the edge of the six-yard box by Song's immaculate tackle.

The helpless Wenger sat tormented through all this, and must have been in agonies when, on the hour, Gervinho went clear. The striker, who often plays as if wearing blinkers, failed to play a simple square ball that would have left Walcott with an open goal. Klopp could at least influence matters and with 20 minutes left he made two substitutions and, more significantly, moved Gotze into a more central role. To counter Rice quickly brought on Frimpong.

Arsenal now looked the more assured team but their lead remained vulnerable.With 10 minutes left, a low corner reached Neven Subotic six yards out. He stabbed it goalwards but the ball stuck under Szczesny's body.

It seemed Arsenal were going to hang on but as full-time loomed a free-kick was half-cleared and Perisic hooked a stunning first-time volley into the top corner. Dortmund searched for a winner but Szczesny denied Lewandowski once more.

Man of the match Szczesny.

Match rating 7/10.

Referee G Rocchi (Italy).

Attendance 75,000.

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