James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013/14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.
Reporting Live from the Emirates Stadium
Arsenal suffered a narrow defeat against Borussia Dortmund to throw their qualification from the Champions League group stage into doubt.
Not content with an elbow on Laurent Koscielny, Robert Lewandowski also landed a sucker-punch to secure a 2-1 victory for the German side.
Arsenal fans felt aggrieved that the Polish forward was still on the pitch. The referee spotted Lewandowski’s attack on Koscielny, but deemed it accidental, handing out a yellow card rather than a red.
Arsenal fans will also be indignant about losing a match they appeared to be close to winning. Dortmund had a hugely impressive first 30 minutes, but in the second half Arsenal responded to take control of the game. In fact, it was in chasing a winner that the Gunners precipitated their own downfall.
Lewandowski has sharp elbows but he also has sharp shooting. When the chance to win the game fell to him with just eight minutes remaining, he did not err.
It was a classic Dortmund counter-attack. Kevin Grosskreutz got in on the right for the umpteenth time in the game, but for the first time was able to find an accurate cross to match precision of his run from deep. Bacary Sagna was caught way upfield and Lewandowski was left free to volley home.
In a week in which Lewandowski has been linked with a move to London, as per The Mirror, this was a pertinent reminder of his quality. From the first whistle, he was imperious. Although he is renowned for his goalscoring, it is intelligent hold-up play that marks him out as exceptional. He seems to turn defenders at will and rarely gives the ball away. Of course, some will counter that it is more difficult to dispossess a forward armed with razor elbows.
Dortmund’s first-half display showed just why they were finalists in this competition last season. Their pressing game had them swarming all over Arsenal, with BVB's yellow and black jerseys resembling a horde of hornets.
By contrast, Arsenal’s midfield looked disjointed. Mesut Ozil was anonymous and Aaron Ramsey overrun. It was a forced error from Ramsey that helped give Dortmund the lead. He over-complicated matters and ceded possession on the edge of his own box, allowing Henrik Mkhitaryan in to score the opener.
Shortly before the first half drew to a close, Arsenal found an equaliser. Unsurprisingly, the source was Olivier Giroud, who impressed with his tireless running in the channels, gambling on lost causes and making the most of limited service. His form this season has been attributed as a response to the summer’s speculation linking Arsenal with a new forward, as per The Independent. This energetic display looked like a direct rebuttal to Lewandowski’s magnificent display.
It was one of Giroud’s gambles that brought about the goal. Bacary Sagna’s crossing had been as poor as Grosskreutz’s all night, but this time Roman Weidenfeller allowed the ball to slip out of his hands. Giroud gladly volleyed home the loose ball.
Dortmund must have been upset to concede a goal so late in a half they dominated. Come the second half, they would give the Gunners a taste of their own medicine.
Arsenal improved dramatically in the second period, with the introduction of Santi Cazorla allowing them to assert their dominance over a tiring Dortmund. However, as Arsenal's conviction that they could win the game grew, so did Dortmund's threat on the counter. The Gunners were ultimately punished for their pluck.
From seeming like favourites for qualification, Arsenal are now in the precarious position of requiring a favour from an out-of-sorts Marseille team to avoid needing to win in either Naples or Dortmund.
However, there's no need for despair. In Dortmund, they were up against an excellent side. In Lewandowski, they faced an outstanding striker, who is good with his head, great with his feet, and not bad with his elbows.