Arsenal 1 Borussia Dortmund 2: It was 12 games in all competitions without defeat and, quite frankly, if you are going to lose then the Borussia Dortmund of 2013 are a far more palatable alternative than, say, Norwich City or Crystal Palace, although that will be of no consolation to Arsene Wenger.
All the poor old chap wanted on the occasion of his 64th birthday was to beat the second best team in Europe, and one of the most exciting teams of this generation. It was not to be. Although his team had the better of it at times, especially at the end of the first half, this was a reminder of the exacting standards that the very best of the Champions League demands.
Wenger was hard on his side afterwards, accusing them of being "naive" for not protecting the point at the very least and eventually falling to a late goal from Robert Lewandowski who popped up unmarked in the left channel in the fashion that last week caused Roy Hodgson to, as he put it, die a thousand deaths.
The Polish striker could not inflict the kind of damage against England that he did against Arsenal last night, neatly finishing a cross from the industrious Kevin Grosskreutz on the right wing. There had been complaints all night from Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny about Lewandowski's sneaky but liberal use of the elbow. In the end that did not matter.
Six points from three games is not a bad running total and, on the Uefa head-to-head rule that trumps goal difference Arsenal are top of Group F. They are level on six points with Dortumund and Napoli who beat Marseille away last night. Nevertheless, it is perilously tight and Wenger's team could do with getting something from their trip to Germany on 6 November one of two remaining away games in the group stage.
There were some good spells for Arsenal, not least when Olivier Giroud scored the equaliser at the end of the first half. They had gone behind early to Henrikh Mkhitaryan's goal but once they regained their confidence, Wenger's side played some decent football. They never quite brought Mesut Ozil into the game, however, and it was another frustrating night for Jack Wilshere, who seemed to pick up an injury and came off before the hour.
The nagging concern for Wenger is that this was the first time his side have played a team from the top drawer of Europe, with an honourable exception for Tottenham who were, nevertheless, in a state of flux when the two sides met. The big tests come at the start of next month with Manchester United and Liverpool, and then again in the run-up to Christmas.
It was not the finest start to the game from Arsenal but they finished it with a mighty surge that took them back on level terms with Dortmund in the last four minutes. Their goal came from Giroud who had chased the Dortmund defence around all first half and was finally given his reward.
A daft foul from Wilshere on Mkhitaryan was a sign of Arsenal's frustration in the early stages. Again pushed out to the left side of the attacking three to accommodate Ozil in the centre it was another mixed half for Wilshere. It was later in the first half he pulled up after chasing a ball out of touch and for a while it looked like he might have to go off immediately.
However, Wilshere picked himself up for the last ten minutes of the half and Arsenal forced their way back into it. They had conceded on 16 minutes when Aaron Ramsey was caught in possession on the edge of his own area and subjected to a crunching tackle by Marco Reus that looked just about permissible. From there the ball was worked from Lewandowski right to Mkhitaryan who picked his spot beautifully past Wojciech Szczesny.
Giroud had played well all half and in the 22nd minute his strength enabled him to muscle Marcel Schmelzer off the ball before his pace took him past Mats Hummels, drawing the foul that saw the Germany international booked. Hummels struggled with Giroud all night, although he did manage to kick a Tomas Rosicky shot off the line with eight minutes of the first half remaining.
Eventually, the equaliser came. Bacary Sagna's cross from the right was the subject of a sorry lack of communication between Neven Subotic and goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller with the defender just arriving first and knocking the ball on. It sat up nicely for Giroud to volley into an empty net.
Wenger's team found themselves up against more determined full-court press from Dortmund at the start of the second half. The opposition did what they could to shut down the spaces in midfield and stop Arsenal from picking up their usual rhythm but this is not a team that wilts easily and the home side got stronger.
Sadly for him, Wilshere came off before the hour. He had soldiered on after that interlude for treatment on his ankle and while he scurried about as usual, and generally got in the game, there was a sense that a cloud hung over him and all was not well. He said later that the damage to his ankle was not serious and he anticipated he would be available for the weekend.
He was replaced by Santi Cazorla who ran onto a cut-back from Ozil with 21 minutes remaining and struck it sweetly against the joint twixt post and bar. As far as the real clear-cut chances were concerned, they were hard to fashion. Nevertheless, Arsenal were impressive in midfield. Mikel Arteta was a calming presence in front of the back four and Rosicky another fine performer.
Ozil was pushed out to the right where he looked more effective than he had been in the centre. Wenger only really committed his team to attack once they fell behind for a second time, throwing on Nicklas Bendtner and then, very late on, Serge Gnabry.
It was Dortmund who eventually pushed on for the win, and Lewandowski who was completely unmarked when Grosskreutz's ball picked him out at the back post. Up in the stands Jurgen Klopp hugged and high-fived the Dortmund officials around him. His touchline ban did not affect the efficiency of his team who have that habit shared by all good sides of being able to reassert themselves in games.
It turned out that Cazorla's shot against the frame of Weidenfeller's goal was the closest Arsenal came to a second. They fell to the classic breakaway goal and, like all those who reach their 64th birthday with hopes and dreams still to fulfil, Wenger was left with much to reflect upon.
Arsenal lost 2-1 to Dortmund, conceding to Robert Lewandowski with seven minutes left after dominating the second half but failing to score a second. There were certainly positives in the Arsenal performance but Wenger said the fault lay with his players.
“We put ourselves on the back foot with the first goal, and were a bit naïve with the second goal. If you look at the number of saves our goalkeeper had to make and we conceded two goals, then we can only look at ourselves.”
Wenger would rather his team had been patient and accepted the 1-1 scoreline. “We were not mature enough. If you cannot win a game then don’t lose it. In the second half we were on top, but made it difficult by giving them the second goal.”
“I’m disappointed. It was a game of high intensity, but very few chances. Dortmund were well organised to stop us playing and we were not as good as we can be offensively. Some of our players were not as fresh as they can be physically.”
“I felt we started a bit hesitant, which we didn’t do against Napoli, which gave them confidence. I believe our flowing football going forward was not quick enough tonight. We were not at our best.”
“You could see that Jack was not completely himself, which is why I decided to take him off,” Wenger said. “At the moment his desire to play absolutely gets him through the game, but he was handicapped by the first tackle he got. He looked like he landed awkwardly, and after that he looked to me like he limped a little bit.”
“We’ll see how he responds in the next two or three days. We’ll have to wait for the medical assessment.”
Wilshere, though, was confident of playing at Selhurst Park. “I will have treatment [on Wednesday] because it is still a bit swollen, but I should be all right for the weekend.”
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Ramsey, Arteta; Wilshere, Ozil, Rosicky; Giroud.
Subs: Wilshere/Cazorla 58, Ramsey/Bendtner 86, Rosicky/Gnabry 89
Dortmund (4-2-3-1): Weidenfeller: Grosskreutz, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer; Bender, Sahin; Blaszczykowski, Mkhitaryan, Reus; Lewandowski.
Subs: Blaszczykowski/Aubameyang 66, Hofman/Mkhitaryan 66, Reus/Papastathopoulos 87
Booked: Dortmund Hummels, Lewandowski, Bender Arsenal Rosicky, Ozil
Referee: J Eriksson (Sweden).
Man of the match: Lewandowski