Dortmund an exciting, difficult challenge

Posted by Andrew Mangan

It's hard not to be excited by the prospect of Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund meeting in the Champions League Tuesday.

Two teams with similar playing philosophies, both with idiosyncratic (perhaps somewhat eccentric) managers, and until recently they shared a handicap: an inability to compete with the big boys in the transfer market. which meant their ripest talents were there for the picking.

Arsenal, of course, have moved beyond their age of relative austerity by making Mesut Ozil the most expensive German player of all time, and his impact on the club both on and off the pitch has been immediate.

-Dortmund's Klopp hails Gunners
-Flamini out for Tuesday

Meanwhile, Dortmund lost their Fabregas, Mario Gotze, to Bayern Munich. Not in the summer, not when it suited them, but hours before a Champions League semi-final with Real Madrid. Bayern flexed their financial muscle, the bully-boys showing the small boys who was in charge. That they beat them in the final (Gotze played no part due to injury), surely just rubbed salt in the wounds.

Yet, for all their investment, and all the adulation over Pep Guardiola's management, Bayern's lead at the top of the Bundesliga is just a single point. The teams share the same goal difference, although Dortmund have scored three more. Robert Lewandowski, himself a target for the Bavarians next summer, is on eight for the season already.

All of which highlights Arsenal are in for a tough game Tuesday night. If Napoli were a tough test, close to the top of Serie A, I think they'll find the German side a much more difficult proposition. Napoli seemed cowed and sluggish, blown away in the first 15 minutes by a scintillating Arsenal performance.

It's hard to imagine Jurgen Klopp's side suffering that fate. They'll be confident, knowing that despite lots of wins, clean sheets are something of a rarity this season for the Gunners. It's something goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny spoke about Tuesday when he met the press alongside Arsene Wenger. While it's not a huge concern just yet, there may come a game when the goals that are flowing up the other end dry up a bit. In that case, a defensive shutout could prove very timely indeed.

However, a 0-0 draw between these teams seems unthinkable. Arsenal's goals at the weekend against Norwich were of the highest quality and Dortmund's defence will have plenty to cope with Tuesday. With Santi Cazorla back in the side after six weeks out, the level of creativity and penetration in the final third would worry anyone.

Where the visitors might fancy their chances is in midfield, where Mathieu Flamini misses out after suffering a concussion against Norwich. It will mean Aaron Ramsey playing just ahead of Mikel Arteta, a role in which he excelled last season. But such is his effectiveness in the final third this season that he will surely be tempted to add to his superb goal tally. It might leave Arteta exposed. If Ramsey does sit a little deeper, you could argue that it will take something away from them as an attacking force.

But then you look at Ozil, the still-underrated Olivier Giroud, Cazorla and Jack Wilshere -- who has found his shooting boots in fine style in the last 10 days -- and you realise there's still plenty that can cause Dortmund problems.

I don't see Arsenal keeping that clean sheet, nor do I see the Germans outscoring them. It's set up for one of those European nights to remember. Two teams that love to attack and base their game around it, two managers who have much in common and great mutual respect, and some outstanding individual performers on both sides.

It's what the Champions League should be about. Maybe you can get an easier game against a smaller team fewer people have heard of, but where's the fun in that, really? At this level, it's about testing yourself against the best, and that's exactly what both teams face Tuesday night.

I think Arsenal have just enough to shade it, especially at home, but they'll have to play as well as they have all season to do it. And if that's the case, we're in for a treat.


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