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Jack: Why brilliant Arsenal do not need believers

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Kristian Jack
11/6/2013 6:02:07 PM
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A football education is not complete without a visit to the magnificent Westfalenstadion in the heartland of industrial Germany.

Anyone who graduates this test does so with a smile on their face. Borussia Dortmund has that effect on people. The club is to football lovers, what Christmas is to children; leaving you with a warm feeling, full of stories about something that is done right.

It happened to me at the World Cup with my wife in 2006 and this past week English journalists, in town for Arsenal's visit to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, typed at great lengths about their love for the club. 'Dortmund is everyone's second team' wrote John Cross of the Daily Mirror who was clearly enamoured by the surroundings. He wasn't alone.

Arsenal, though, were not in town for a sightseeing trip.

The great aspect of sport remains its unpredictability. Arsenal's performance in Dortmund on Wednesday flipped the script and made them the main characters in a fascinating subplot, known as Group F of this season's Champions League campaign.

No English club had ever won in Dortmund before Aaron Ramsey headed in Arsenal's winning goal in front of their travelling fans, who up until then had played the part of non-speaking extras inside a theatre dominated by a chorus of passionate, singing bees.

It gave the Gunners a sensational 1-0 victory, their 14th win in their last 15 away games in all competitions dating back to their last win in Germany, when they defeated the soon-to-be European Champions Bayern Munich in March. Yes, in 2013, a club still searching for respect in its homeland has beaten both teams who made the Champions League final, at home.

Their last win in Germany ended their Champions League journey for another year; its latest win opened up a whole host of possibilities. Not only did it place Arsene Wenger's men in pole position to qualify for the knockout stages for the 14th year in a row it also means they have a great shot at winning the group, something they have accomplished just twice in the last five years.

No team has felt the importance of this more than Arsenal in recent years. "Perhaps, we have been very unlucky with our opponents," said Wenger earlier this season on their failures in Europe's top competition.

It is true the last 16 has often presented them with a tough opponent, including eventual winners Barcelona in 2011 and Bayern Munich last season, but it is equally true that Arsenal have blown crucial opportunities to win their group and avoid such a difficult draw.

For those in England struggling to believe in Arsenal, Wednesday's victory showed glimpses of another side to the Gunners, a much more mature display to their game, full of belief in themselves even when they were against the ropes.

Dortmund, who had scored in 59 of their last 60 home games heading in, dominated much of the game's best chances but rarely threatened the centre-back core of Laurent Koscielny, again excellent in the Champions League, and Per Mertesacker.

Aside from a torrid fifteen minute spell at the start of the second half, Wenger's men, crucially, seemed in control of their emotions, if not the game. They had learned to keep things tight and remain content with the score level, something they struggled with at home to Dortmund last month.

Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky, creators so used to coming inside to work and combine with Olivier Giroud, stayed wide and tracked their opponents. Their football intelligence shone. Dortmund wanted to stretch the game and Arsenal played them at their own game even if some of their key men struggled at times.

Mesut Ozil and Giroud couldn't combine as they like to while Mikel Arteta, desperate for a partner to help him be the guardian of the gates, at times seemed to struggle with the flow of the game but such scenarios, against a team who had won all eight of their home matches this season, will surely have been anticipated.

Few teams in the world transition as well as Dortmund, who explode in numbers the moment they turn over the ball, and on another night Arteta, as the principal holder in midfield, could have been exposed but Arsenal withstood the pressure and still found a moment to shine themselves.

Rosicky, a poster child for a former Dortmund team of debt and disarray, played a superb one-two with Ramsey before unleashing Ozil on the right. The German, whose presence has done so much to install a new belief in Arsenal, crossed a ball in dangerously that wasn't dealt with by Dortmund's defence, allowing Ramsey to continue a dream season by heading home.

Suddenly Arsenal found themselves, much like many before them, smiling inside the iconic Westfalenstadion.

On Wednesday night they board a plane back to a land where many still wait for their match at Manchester United on Sunday to see if they are for real. They needn't bother. The facts are clear. Win, lose or draw on Sunday, Arsenal are still a far superior side to the one that played for the majority of last season and are finally a team that is looking like one that is coached properly.

Whether or not that makes them title contenders remains unclear and only the future will declare the verdict. What was declared on Wednesday was people need to find a middle ground when analyzing this club.

How they match up against Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City over 38 games is irrelevant in November.

Right now, Arsenal are playing a level of football their high-paying fans expect and those searching to see what they will do come May are losing sight of special performances and it doesn't get much better than a win at the Westfalenstadion.

Aaron Ramsey and Per Mertesacker (Photo: Canadian Press)

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(Photo: Canadian Press)
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