Borussia Dortmund 2 Arsenal 1: A bittersweet European night

Sylvain battles for the ball with the enormous Koller
It was never going to be easy against what is a very good Dortmund side, with several players back in the team who weren't available for the first match at Highbury. Despite that, we should have been looking to making it three straight away wins in this opening group phase - we had already won impressively in Holland and France, now we should be showing the Germans what we can do.

Dennis Bergkamp didn't travel to Germany - Arsene Wenger decided that he shouldn't despite the fact that the player was willing to drive - therefore out starting lineup was: Seaman, Lauren, Campbell, Cygan, Cole, Pires, Vieira, Gilberto, Wiltord, Ljungberg and Henry. It would soon be evident that Bergkamp was to be missed - sorely. The Germans started with three strikers - Koller, Ewerthon and Ricken - and were also able to draw on the experience of internationals Metzelder, Frings and Worns.

The omens weren't good straight from the kickoff - second into the game Lars Ricken found himself in acres of space, and on the end of a good deliver. His shot beat Seaman low to his right, and cannoned off the inside of the post in front of the watching Cygan, a lucky break early on.

The Germans started like the home team should, with the edge as far as confidence is concerned. There's also no question that our three previous defeats are having an effect on the way we play - it's quite clear to see. Having said that we were getting forward, despite the fact that the fluidity was missing from our game. In the thirteenth minute the enormous Jan Koller hit the inside of Seaman's left post with a header which thankfully came back out.

As is so often the case, it was the team that had looked like going ahead that went behind first. Freddie Ljungberg was brought down on the edge of the box, and the referee awarded a free kick. Dortmund coach Matthias Sammer was furious, but it was clear that Freddie was impeded. Sammer was even less happy when Thierry mhenry proceeded to lift the ball over the German wall and straight into the net. Lehmann was poorly positioned, Vieira was in the wall causing chaos and trying to unsight the keeper, and Henry made it look simple. One-nil to the Arsenal after seventeen minutes - was this to be the platform from which we could build and go on to consolidate our position? - nope, not tonight, sorry.

Freddie and the Brazilian Dede in combat
The fact is that in the final third of the field we were poor - albeit there were glimmers of hope: On twenty-seven minutes Ljungberg advanced on goal, feeding the supporting Patrick Vieira whose shot rocketed tantalisingly across the face of the goal and scraped past the far post. It did look as though we could get the seond if we continued to create chances like this, but it was not to be. The Germans were creating chances of their own, but frankly their finishing was woeful as well - Jan Koller was fouled by Cygan on the edge of the box in a dangerous position, but the Brazilian Dede wasted the free kick. The other Brazilian Ewerthon put a shot over the bar after being fed a great ball by Frings.

On thirty-seven minutes, Koller and Wiltord went for a fifty-fifty ball, both with their feet a little high. Our Sylv was the unfortunate one who was penalised, and the ref awarded a free kick to the Germans. Rosicky whipped the ball in from the left hand side, and poor Gilberto made contact with his head, deflecting the ball past the hapless Seaman and into the net. This was one goal that couldn't be blamed upon big Dave - he was totally deceived by the deflection and never stood a chance. He'll still be angry with himself though.

Arsenal tried to fight back immediately prior to half-time - Wiltord saw a great effort go past the post - but the half ended level at 1-1, and at that point the game could have gone either way.

The second half started with both teams trying to play football but neither really succeeding. Dortmund had the lions share of possession, but seemed as incapable as we were of creating meaningful goalscoring opportunities. The game looked as though it could finish all square - it was almost as if both teams knew that because of the score in the other game (PSV trouncing nine-man Auxerre) that they would both qualify anyway.

At least Koller tried to provide the crowd with value for money by putting on a one-man acrobatic display that involved him leaping high into the air over the outstretched David Seaman and landing in a heap on the floor. The groundstaff wouldn't have been impressed - he probably did considerable damage to the pitch - but the ref was impressed enough to point to the spot. The Arsenal bench all held up cards scoring Koller with a "perfect six" (I made that bit up of course!). Matthias Sammer looked relieved - after accusing our players of diving prior to the game, it was ironic that the lumbering oaf Koller had probably won the game for Dortmund using the very same tactics.

Ready for liftoff - Koller about to get airborne
Rosicky took the penalty, and to be fair it was a cracker. He placed the ball low to Seaman's right, and despite the fact that big Dave went the right way he didn't stand a chance of keeping it out. As the half wore on Arsene Wenger tried ringing the changes to inject some life into our performance. Toure for Pires, Kanu for Wiltord and Edu for Gilberto (or as ITV so generously said, "one own-goalscorer for another").

It was never going to be our night though. The game petered out into our fourth consecutive 2-1 defeat, our first run of four losses since November 1983. I'm just grateful that the defeat didn't see us eliminated from the Champions League - that really would have been reason enough to go into mourning - but no, we live to fight another day, and our place in the next phase is guaranteed. What we can't afford to do is lose our next Premiership game on Sunday, so Monsieur Wenger, please, sort it out!