Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal preview: Arsenal head into European adventure with familiar fears

With the right side of defence hit by injuries, Wenger’s side must battle to win in Germany, writes Sam Wallace

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The Independent Online

It is eight years since Arsène Wenger’s team reached the Champions League final for the first and only time in their history and they stand alone as the most consistent English qualifier for the competition, now that Manchester United have fallen by the wayside. But it just would not be Arsenal in Europe if there was not a mood of mild panic as they approach their first game in the competition desperately short of right-backs. Mathieu Debuchy, for one, is out injured.

Wenger approached the diminishing number of fit and available defenders among his ranks with the usual pre-match good humour that dissolves when he walks out of the tunnel on match day.

He may yet have to call upon Hector Bellerin, a 19-year-old with one substitute’s appearance to his name, tomorrow night against Borussia Dortmund, but if that was of concern to the Arsenal manager then he certainly did not show it as he embarks upon his 17th consecutive Champions League campaign.

It is early days yet, although Arsenal’s unfortunate habit of finishing second in their group in the last two years has contributed to them drawing Bayern Munich in the last 16 twice and going out of the competition each time. They have finished second in those groups to German teams on both occasions – Schalke in 2012, and Dortmund last season – so this year it is not hard to see where the improvement might come. It is also their last season under the old Uefa system that has guaranteed them a place among the seeds despite their recent run of third and fourth place Premier League finishes.

Not since the 2009-10 season have Arsenal made it out of the last 16. They last reached the semi-finals in 2008-09, when they were beaten by Manchester United home and away. Despite his team’s doggedness in qualifying, this has been a competition of diminishing returns for Wenger.

Tomorrow, however, it is a more expensively assembled Arsenal that the locals will come to the Westfalenstadion to see. Of the two clubs’ respective World Cup-winning German players it is the Arsenal contingent who had the greater number of finals appearances between them this summer. Mesut Özil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski racked up 15 between them to the six that Mats Hummels, injured for tomorrow’s game, played.

There will be more German World Cup experience in red shirts on the pitch than there will be in the native yellow. Asked whether that would bring with it the attendant pressure, Wenger agreed.

“In the Dortmund squad they had no [Ilkay] Gündogan and no [Marco] Reus, and they would have played in the World Cup finals if they had been fit,” he said. “It is always a pressure when you come back to your country. If I took Wojciech Szczesny to play in Poland, he would be under scrutiny. The attention [on them] is a bit bigger.”

 

Hummels, Reus and Gündogan are three among an injury list of seven first-team players Jürgen Klopp will be without. The Dortmund manager’s goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller was a non-playing member of the World Cup squad, so too Kevin Grosskreutz and Erik Durm, who are both likely to be in the starting XI. The 20-year-old Matthias Ginter, another non-playing member of the World Cup party, is also in the Dortmund squad.

Any meeting between Klopp and Wenger, and this is the third in four years, has a tendency to turn into one of mutual appreciation. Klopp was reminded by one of the German press that he had once said he “loved” Wenger, although the Dortmund coach said he had no recollection of ever having done so. “He [Wenger] is very nice, very intelligent,” he said. “We met at the Uefa coaching congress. I respect him in the highest manner for taking the right decisions in hard times.

“It’s easy for anyone to take decisions when it’s fine, but he took decisions in tough days. I would never compare myself to other managers in the world, let alone someone like him.”

Like Wenger, Klopp has lost his best players over the years to one bigger domestic rival in particular and any number of big European clubs. Like Wenger, he has done a good job of replacing them and has decided to stay put himself, resisting the chance to move on to bigger clubs.

Klopp has also brought one favourite player back, Shinji Kagawa from Manchester United who, in the absence of Reus, is expected to start in his preferred No 10 position behind the Colombian striker Adrian Ramos. To give Kagawa the benefit of the doubt you would say he was not put to his best use by United; even so, he seemed to develop a habit of letting his opportunity slip by.

Kagawa has already played his way back into the affection of the home support with a goal and what Klopp described as a “sensational” performance in the league win over Freiburg on Saturday.

“I was kind of surprised Shinji was on the market once again,” Klopp said. “His first year [at United] there was the last year of Sir Alex Ferguson and that’s not the time when you develop a player. It is all about results and titles. His second year at United was the first year of a new coach and once again it’s all about results. His third year was another new coach [Louis van Gaal], with a whole new and very successful philosophy, and maybe he didn’t fit in with it. We saw the chance and took it.”

There will be something to prove for Kagawa and so too for Özil, who is not as widely appreciated in Germany as you might expect for a man who started every one of his country’s games at the World Cup, including every minute of the final. Klopp was alert to the sensitivity of the subject when asked about the Arsenal man. “That’s not an issue to me,” he said, “even if it’s a Germany player, even if it’s a player for the national team. I don’t want to say anything about this.”

For the Germans in Wenger’s squad who played in the World Cup final, this will be a night when they will get some idea of their new status in their home country.

For Wenger, he could do with some of that success having an effect on an Arsenal record in this competition that has looked a little jaded in recent years.

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