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Arsenal Progress To The Last 16 After Yaya Sanogo Stuns Borussia Dortmund

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ARSENE Wenger can call off the search for the dictionary, at least for now. The Arsenal manager had said that he might have to delve for the tome to reacquaint himself with the meaning of crisis. After so many years and so many crises, he joked that he had forgotten how one could be qualified.

Many Arsenal supporters felt that the club was flirting with one as they took to the field here, on the back of three sobering results – the Champions League draw against Anderlecht, when they had led 3-0, and the Premier League losses to Swansea City and Manchester United. Per Mertesacker, the defender, said that the players had “dropped mentally”. This, he said, was a psychological challenge.

But on a dank night in north London, the players showed their mettle, albeit against a Borussia Dortmund that looked like a shadow of the team that had stormed to the final of the competition in 2013. Jürgen Klopp, the manager, lamented a lack of confidence and courage.

Arsenal were occasionally vibrant, almost always solid – which was arguably the biggest boon, after the well documented, recent lapses – and thoroughly deserved victors. The reward was a 15th consecutive qualification to the second round of Europe’s elite tournament. Whisper it, but they are not yet out of the running to nick top spot in Group D from Dortmund, which would increase their chances of a more favourable last-16 draw.

It was a game that will go down as the one in which Yaya Sanogo broke his scoring duck for the club on his 19th appearance and it was illuminated by the thrusting performances of Alexis Sánchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Sánchez scored again; Oxlade-Chamberlain was denied only by the woodwork.

But above all, it was defined by a more balanced feel to the performance. As Wenger put it afterwards, Arsenal were “more urgent to defend”. He has regularly stressed his confidence that there is something special in his squad and there was evidence here to support him.

The opening goal always stood to be decisive and, from a Dortmund point of view, Arsenal plundered it with indecent haste. For Sanogo, it was the stuff of dreams. The 21-year-old owed his selection to Danny Welbeck’s knee injury and Olivier Giroud’s ineligibility, and a penny for the thoughts of Lukas Podolski and Joel Campbell might have been worth the investment. The World Cup winner and World Cup star respectively could not have taken kindly to being overlooked for a callow rookie. Sanogo has looked almost painfully raw during his injury-scarred Arsenal career but Wenger’s faith in him has never wavered. “Sanogo will surprise you,” the manager has said. One minute and 15 seconds were on the stadium clock when Sanogo did just that.

There was a maverick quality to his hold-up work from Calum Chambers’ throw-in, as he played a bit of keepy-uppy before executing an extravagant back-heeled flick to Santi Cazorla. Sanogo span away, then he got the ball back and, suddenly, there he was, with only Roman Weidenfeller to beat. His first touch felt heavy but with the second Sanogo poked the ball through the goalkeeper’s legs. The delirious celebrations were underpinned by an element of collective amazement. Sanogo had looked to have been marginally offside from Cazorla’s pass but the flag stayed down. The linesman was a romantic at heart.

Dortmund’s travelling fans banged their drums and bellowed their anthems throughout. Their team came to flicker on the counter in the second part of the first half and Henrikh Mkhitaryan was at the heart of their best moments. He was denied an equaliser on 39 minutes by Emiliano Martínez. Mkhitaryan’s first touch following Lukasz Piszczek’s header was perfect and the second was struck at goal from close range. Martínez diverted it past his near post. Arsenal’s third-choice goalkeeper emerged with credit, and his reflex block at the very end from the substitute Adrián Ramos was of the highest order.

Arsenal played good football in patches and they might have taken a two-goal lead in the 10th minute, when Aaron Ramsey sprang Sanogo through the Dortmund back line. This time, Sanogo opted to jink inside only to run into Marcel Schmelzer. He battled to win the ball back and, when he shot, he was denied by Matthias Ginter’s block.

Klopp had said that this engagement had represented a holiday for him; a welcome break from the nightmare that has been the Bundesliga season so far. Almost implausibly, Dortmund languish third from bottom. Klopp must be an angry tourist. He roared at the fourth official and he berated his players when they erred. If Dortmund had been poor at the outset, it was a similar story at the beginning of the second half. With the onus on them, Klopp’s team pressed onto the front foot but Arsenal, and Sánchez in particular, simply revelled in picking them off.

Sánchez barrelled through to extend Weidenfeller with a low drive while Oxlade-Chamberlain, on his 100th appearance for the club, hit a marvellous looping shot from Sánchez’s pass that rattled the crossbar.

Not unusually, Sánchez provided the champagne moment. From Cazorla’s pass, he darted inside Piszczek to open up the shooting chance at the far corner. It has become his trademark and the bend on the right-footed shot from 20 yards was beautifully judged. Sánchez had his 13th goal for the club and Wenger was out of his seat, smiling broadly and pumping his fists. It was a night for him to enjoy. – The Guardian

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