By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal secured their place in the knockout stage of the Champions League for the 12th successive season with a convincing 2-0 victory against Borussia Dortmund.
The Gunners came into the game on the back of two successive domestic defeats and in need of a boost to their morale. They received just that within 75 seconds as Yaya Sanogo opened his account for the club with a cool, composed finish that brought the Emirates faithful to their feet.
It was the French striker’s first in Arsenal colours and he went close again soon afterwards as the hosts took control of proceedings with a measured, highly-disciplined display. Emiliano Martinez was only called into action once in the first half, but did well to deny Henrikh Mkhitaryan with a sprawling save.
The Gunners continued to up the ante after the break and minutes after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had hit the crossbar with a fierce volley, Alexis Sanchez doubled the lead with a brilliant curling effort from 20 yards.
Oxlade-Chamberlain again went close with a piercing drive as the hosts continued to press home their advantage, but there was to be no further way through.
Now Arsenal’s hopes of securing top spot in Group D rest on them winning at Galatasaray in their final group game, coupled with an away victory for Anderlecht at Dortmund.
But for now, they can reflect on a job well done and a very welcome return to winning ways. The last-16 awaits.
SETTING THE SCENE
On a chilly night in north London, the pre-match equation was simple for the Gunners: a point or more would take them through to the knockout stage.
However, Wenger had a number of selection headaches to deal with due to the injuries sustained by Wojciech Szczesny and Jack Wilshere at the weekend that ruled both out of contention.
Martinez replaced the former to make his first Champions League appearance at Emirates Stadium, while Santi Cazorla came in to bolster the midfield. Elsewhere, Danny Welbeck dropped out due to a slight knee problem, with Sanogo spearheading the attack.
Dortmund, meanwhile, warmed up with a surprise training session in Regent’s Park on Wednesday morning, reflecting their relaxed state of mind ahead of this fixture. For while the German side may have struggled domestically this term, their European form had been imperious as they racked up four consecutive wins and scored 13 goals to lead the group.
However, Jurgen Klopp was dealt a significant blow when Marco Reus was ruled out with an ankle injury sustained at the weekend, while influential centre back Mats Hummels also missed out. But with their last-16 place already secure, they could afford to rotate for this game.
Arsenal were hoping for a fast start as they sought to rebuild confidence following Saturday’s disappointing defeat to Manchester United - and they certainly got it.
Within 75 seconds of kick off, Sanogo opened his account for the club with a well-taken strike that brought the home fans to their feet. The striker had gone 18 games without a goal since his arrival from Auxerre in July 2013 but had been in good form for France Under-21s, netting twice in their recent victory against England.
Finally his moment of glory in Arsenal colours arrived when he held up the ball to the right of the Dortmund box, laid it off to Cazorla and spun in behind the defence. He was found by a cute pass from the Spanish playmaker, before taking a touch and rolling his shot between the legs of Roman Weidenfeller and into the empty net.
It was a moment of sheer, unbridled joy for the striker and his confidence levels seemed to take an immediate lift.
He soon had a golden chance to double his tally as he raced through on goal after a mistake in the visitors’ midfield, but a drag-back in the box at the key moment allowed Matthias Ginter to recover and eventually block his shot.
Dortmund may have been slightly taken aback by the ferocity of the Gunners’ start but they slowly started to grow into the game, with Lukasz Piszczek causing particular concern with one searching cross from the right that just evaded Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
For all Dortmund’s attacking threat, this was a much more measured performance from Arsenal as they dominated possession, moved the ball around slickly and defended resolutely and in numbers.
Martinez was barely tested, such was the control the Gunners’ backline were exerting. However, just before the interval the young Argentine was called into action to deny Mkhitaryan with a sprawling save from close range.
Martinez was called into action again at the start of the second half as Mkhitaryan tested him with a firm effort from the edge of the area, before Alexis responded with a fizzing effort at the other end that was tipped wide.
It was a real livewire start to second half and Oxlade-Chamberlain - in his 100th appearance for the club - soon rattled the crossbar with a fabulous dipping volley that had looked destined for the top corner.
But the home fans did not have long to wait for that second goal as, just three minutes later, Cazorla sprayed the ball out to Alexis to the left of the box. There was still plenty of work to be done, but the Chilean international simply cut inside and curled a delightful shot into far corner from 20 yards.
Pure Alexis, pure class.
While the Chilean has grabbed all the headlines this season, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s contribution has not exactly gone unnoticed. He was at his effervescent best once again here and came close to scoring with a fierce drive that arrowed just over the bar from the right of the box.
In truth the game had lost some of its intensity after Alexis’ goal but still the Gunners continued to probe at their opponents, seeking the third goal that would make it more possible for them to secure top spot in Group D.
Lukas Podolski’s introduction off the bench elicited a huge roar from the home fans but the Germany international was not presented with a clear sight of goal against his compatriots.
The final whistle was greeted with a similar outpouring from the relieved home fans with their side are heading to the knockout stage once again.
Arsenal are back on track.
Referee: Viktor Kassai
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