I reached home Tuesday night totally flogged out after a hectic day at work. I knew that I would not be able to stay awake to watch the inaugural Championship League match against Dortmund slated at 00.15 am IST. Yet, I was not going to miss it under any circumstances.
I took a gamble: switched off my cellphones, set the alarm at 00.15 am and headed straight to bed at 10 pm, much to surprise and anxiety of my wife, who thought I must be ill! It seemed just minutes when the alarm went off; groggily I groped for the TV remote and switched it on. The match had just started, yet I could barely keep my eyelids open.
Within seconds, however, I was wide awake as I was greeted by a volley of protest from my indignant wife whose sympathies for my health had dissipated when she realised my intention of going off to bed so early. I had to compromise by turning off the volume.
I could see Pat Rice screaming instructions from the sidelines and Wenger was missing. Immediately it struck me that Wenger was serving a touchline ban imposed by FIFA. Soon, the TV camera picked up the Frenchman’s furrowed brows up in the stands, watching the proceedings intensely.
It seemed Asrsenal were playing against themselves as Dortmund played a slick game and the pristine grass was witnessing waves of yellow as Arsenal were pushed to backfoot for most part of the match.
Robbie Van Persie played a great match, a captain’s display, urging his team mates on. He kept dropping back to assist his defenders in thwarting the Bundesliga champions. Alex Song was a revelation — he kept warding off Mario Gotze, who reigned supreme and threatened the Arsenal defence with his on- and off-the-ball movements.
Three minutes before the break Theo Walcott conjured a magical pass out of nowhere, Van Persie latched on to the ball before driving it with his weaker ‘right foot’ past Weidenfeller, the Dortmund goalkeeper.
The second-half saw a virtual siege of the Arsenal citadel as Dortmund threatened to tear apart the defence. Yet Arsenal held on, defending superbly, playing like men possessed. It seemed they were determined to pick up three points against the run of the play.
However, that was not be, as Alex Song yielded a free-kick with two minutes to go. When Marcel Schmelzer lifted in the free-kick, Kieran Gibbs’s clearance fell to Ivan Perisic. Szczesny did not even have time to react as the Croatian’s magnificent left-footed volley flew past him in the net. Dortmund were determined to earn three points as the match became frenzied. A couple of saves and brilliant blocks from Arsenal dented the vociferous home fans hoped.
I heaved a sigh of relief when the match ended; the same relief was perceptible on every Arsenal player’s face, maybe with a tinge of dejection. The famed Arsenal midfield of the past is no more. It would require much improvement from Arteta, Benayoun and company to make up for Fabregas and Nasri.
The only positive of the match was the resilience displayed by the Gunners in coming off from Dortmund with their heads high and a valuable point in their bag.
I did not sleep much after the match and woke up bleary eyed. But I had no complaints. After all, it was a night to remember.