Champions League

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Arsenal cement status as contenders

Champions League: Borussia Dortmund vs. Arsenal.
Champions League: Borussia Dortmund vs. Arsenal.
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Jamie Trecker

Jamie Trecker is the Senior Editor for FOXSoccer.com. A working journalist for 25 years, he covers the Champions League, European soccer and the world game. Follow him on Twitter.

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MANCHESTER, ENGLAND

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Arsenal’s glorious week continues with an historic first as they became the first English team to beat Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League at the Westfalonstadion. Aaron Ramsey was the hero again for the Gunners on Wednesday as they remained atop Group F with a 1-0 win courtesy of the Welsh star’s header just past the hour mark.

In the other game in the group, Napoli overcame an early setback to down Olympique Marseille 3-2 to all but eject the French side from European play.

These are heady days for Arsenal fans. With the win, Arsenal cemented their status as a genuine contender in Europe this season, and while the job is not yet done, they look miles away from the callow sides of years past. This was a muscular and demanding performance from the Gunners, who have been transformed by the arrival of Mesut Ozil into an efficient and careful team that appears capable of beating anyone.

“It was a great achievement,” said Ramsey after the match. “It was a difficult place to come. We were very good defensively, we kept our shape well and we got the goal on the counter. It was a good away win.”

But for long stretches on Wednesday, it looked as if it would be Dortmund’s night and if there is a takeaway for their manager, Jurgen Klopp, it is that while they had far more chances on Arsenal’s net, they were also far too wasteful. At the end, the image of Robert Lewandowski, staring up at the Yellow Wall, spoke volumes -- he had seceral chances to put this game away and squandered them all.

The Gunners and Dortmund largely cancelled each other out in a tense first half, with a surprisingly physical Arsenal side pushing and shoving their way to parity. But that reliance on bulk to break up the play meant that Arsenal’s offense never got engaged. In the first half, Arsene Wenger's side failed to take a single shot on goal and Olivier Giroud cut a lonely figure at the top.

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Yet, when Dortmund had chances at the start, they spurned them, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan missing a gilt-edged chance ten minutes before the end of the half. Fed in by Jakub “Kuba” Blaszczykowski, Mkhitaryan found himself between three defenders and with only Wojciech Szczesny to beat. The Armenian rarely misses such chances, but he put his shot to the keeper’s right but on the wrong side of the post.

That was the best chance of the first half, but Dortmund would quickly pick up where they left off after the break, using their high-pressing and quick-tempo game to compress Arsenal’s defense. Crosses started flying in, Arsenal’s defenders started to look a bit more ragged and when the ball went in the net after a well-worked bit of play between Blaszczykowski and Mkhitaryan, the Gunners were only saved by the linesman’s flag. A goal for Dortmund seemed inevitable.

Instead, out of nothing, Arsenal seized the lead -- and in the process, turned the game on its ear. Ozil slipped an innocuous ball into the box that Giroud headed down and through the Dortmund back line. Neven Subotic, the one-time American youth international, moved to place a boot on it, but Ramsey was faster, and he nodded the ball beyond keeper Roman Weidenfeller with a stroke.

From that point on, Dortmund rarely threatened. Arsenal, in contrast, began to attack freely and more often, and what had been a stifled game for spells turned into an open contest. Giroud would have a ball cleared off the line by Nuri Sahin, then Per Mertesacker would head a looper agonizingly over the bar and onto the top of the net. Dortmund’s frustration grew, and as the clock wound down, the normally astute German side were reduced to taking pot-shots.

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“It was a very tight game, and they didn’t give us any room to create chances,” said Arsenal manager Wenger after the match. “But after we came into the game, it looked like we could score. It was a very mature performance. We are answering the questions.”

Arsenal’s next game is at Old Trafford against a Manchester United side that looks soggy. United’s star, Wayne Rooney, cast aspersions on Arsenal’s credentials earlier Wednesday, saying that Arsenal’s form might be illusory.

Off the back of this performance, don’t be surprised if Rooney is having a re-think. Arsenal are in fine form and full of confidence. Dare their fans start to think that after so many barren years this one might just be the one?

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