In the lead-up to his team’s clash with Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger spoke, unsurprisingly, of belief.
“We take belief from our form away from home,” said Wenger when asked about his side’s 14-game unbeaten away streak. “We play everywhere to win. That will not change and we will have a positive attitude in our game.”
More than perhaps anything else, it is Wenger’s beliefs that have shaped his 17 year stint at Arsenal. Arsenal’s successes and failures during Wenger’s tenure are undeniably linked with the values he espouses – the importance of youth development, financial responsibility, and a philosophy of aesthetically-oriented, if occasionally naïve, attacking football.
While Wegner’s values are widely respected, his judgement has been increasingly criticised. A recent dearth of silverware at the Emirates has called Wenger’s firmly-held beliefs into question. Out of obstinacy or wisdom, Arsene has stuck to his guns, despite pressure from the media and the club’s own supporters.
It’s fitting then, that Oliver Giroud and Aaron Ramsey, veritable mascots of Wenger’s unwavering belief despite periods of unconvincing form, were instrumental in handing Arsenal a famous 1 – 0 win at the Westfalenstadion, one of Europe’s most daunting grounds.
Mesut Özil, who struggled to find space all evening among Dortmund’s tenacious midfield pressure, found himself with a rare moment of freedom on the right-hand side of the box. Olivier Giroud fought off pressure to head Özil’s inswinging cross onto Ramsey, who pulled away from Dortmund’s Neven Subotic to head home past Weidenfeller for the eventual winner.
Arsenal’s five man midfield was geared toward possession, and they traded spells of dominance with Dortmund’s men in the middle of the park. Due to the slick surface and perhaps the pressure of the fixture, neither team enjoyed fluency, but Dortmund were perhaps the more threatening of the two sides, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marco Reus both fluffing chances to put die Schwarzgelben on the score sheet.
Arsenal at times still struggle to break down organized defenses, but what has enabled their impressive record in 2013 is a new found sense of defensive solidarity; of belief. Per Mertesacker, the once-maligned ‘panic-buy’ has become a true leader on the pitch and was imperious alongside Laurent Koscielny, following Lewandowski deep to break up play and organizing the crisp offside trap that thwarted 3 scoring chances for Dortmund.
Arsenal have always known how to play football, but as has been showcased in recent clashes, they have now learned how to win football matches.
Arsenal’s squad still appears vulnerable, but the facts are there for all to see – In the last 12 months, Wenger’s band of bargains and flops have notched away victories at the homes of the Champions League holders and runners up. They sit atop their Champions League group and the Premier League table. It seems Arsenal are beginning to believe that they are genuine challengers. Arsene Wenger isn’t surprised. He’s believed it all along.