Arsenal’s seemingly serene passage into the Champions League knockout stages suffered a severe jolt at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night.
They were beaten by Borussia Dortmund in the strangest of games on Matchday Three.
Last year’s finalists showed all their quality in the first half. They took the lead through Henrikh Mkhitaryan while Arsenal, who had won both their previous Group F games, struggled for fluency before Olivier Giroud thumped home the equaliser from close-range four minutes before the break.
The introduction of Santi Cazorla early in the second half seemed to turn around the game. The Spaniard hit the woodwork soon after his introduction and led Arsenal’s chase for a winner.
However Robert Lewandowski volleyed home a breakaway goal eight minutes from time as Dortmund pilfered all three points.
Napoli’s victory at Marseille means the Frenchman are yet to break their duck while the other three teams are tied on six points.
Arsenal deserved a point this evening and are still top thanks to their head-to-head record.
But Group F is wide open once again.
This was no way for Arsène Wenger to spend his 64th birthday.
SETTING THE SCENE
At his pre-match press conference, Wenger had suggested a victory would put Arsenal “80 per cent” of the way to the knockout stages.
As on Saturday, he rotated a little with Tomas Rosicky replacing Cazorla. The omission of Mathieu Flamini was enforced because of the midfielder’s concussion against Norwich on Saturday. But Wenger could well have brought in Aaron Ramsey, the man of the moment, anyway.
The opening stages were played out upon a rhythm of incessant drumming. The Dortmund fans, like their manager, were full of colour and character.
And the visitors would give them plenty to shout about.
Jurgen Klopp’s team settled much the quicker and scored before Arsenal created anything of note. Mats Hummel and Grosskreutz blazed over then Marco Reus’ cross-shot fizzed past the flying Wojciech Szczesny and just beyond the far post.
Arsenal were hardly overrun but Dortmund were probing for a opening, particularly down their right flank.
And they created a decisive one for themselves in the 16th minute.
Reus robbed Ramsey on the edge of the area as the Welshman tried to dribble clear of danger.
Lewandowski nudged the loose ball to Mkhitaryan, who drove a low shot into the corner of the net.
Trailing was a highly unusual position for Arsenal this season.
They tried to muster a response – Giroud was fouled just outside the area on the byline driving through, Rosicky nearly released the scuttling Jack Wilshere. However the home side were lacking some of their trademark cohesion this evening.
It took until the 37th minute for them to create a clear goal-scoring chance. Giroud roared down the left and his cross was cleared by Marcel Schmelzer to Rosicky on the edge of the area.
The Czech international displayed excellent technique to keep his shot down. It beat keeper Roman Weidenfeller but Hummels cleared it off the line.
A couple of minutes later, Dortmund would not be so fortunate. Sagna swung in a cross from the right and the backtracking Neven Subotic nudged the ball onto the advancing Weidenfeller.
It bounced up nicely for Giroud to gleeful slam home from close range.
The goal had evened up the game. Dortmund still had the territorial advantage early on but Arsenal found a little more balance when Cazorla replaced Wilshere. The Englishman had struggled to shake off a kick on the ankle in the first half.
On the hour, Mesut Ozil combined with Ramsey down the right and Cazorla hit a first-time curling effort that bounced off the top of the bar.
Arsenal were building pressure and momentum but there were precious few chances at either end.
In the 76th minute, the home side swept down the right and Cazorla jinked his way across the edge of the area but before seeing his drive blocked.
Arsenal were enjoying their best period of the game and were testing Dortmund in serious terms.
The German side were in their shell but they would soon emerge decisively as they regained the lead with their first shot of the second half.
Nine minutes from time Grosskreutz overlapped down the right as they broke clear from Arsenal pressure and his deep cross was volleyed home by Lewandowski at the far post.
It was less than Arsenal deserved on the night and, as they rain came down, they could not muster much of a response.
It was their first defeat since the opening day of the Premier League season.
- Wilshere 59
- Ramsey 87
- Ozil Yellow Card
- Rosicky 90 Yellow Card
- Giroud Goal!
- Cazorla 59
- Gnabry 90
- Bendtner 87
- Hummels Yellow Card
- Blaszczykowski 68
- Bender Yellow Card
- Mkhitaryan 68 Goal!
- Reus 87
- Lewandowski Goal! Yellow Card
- Papastathopoulos 87
- Hofmann 68
- Aubameyang 68