Arsenal face biggest Champions League away test against Borussia Dortmund
Arsenal have returned to the country where their current buoyancy began determined to prove their pre-eminence is not based on hot air.
The Gunners moved five points clear at the top of the Premier League on Saturday with a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Liverpool to continue their fine early-season form as they enter the most sustained examination of their credentials at home and abroad – the tie against Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion.
Arsenal arrived here in Germany top of Group F by the thinnest of margins – Uefa's method of separating sides by their head-to-head record has them leading a trio of teams on six points – yet galvanised by an away record dating back to March's 2-0 victory at Bayern Munich.
Although that result ultimately proved insufficient to prevent their exit from last season's competition, it has frequently been cited as the catalyst for an upturn in fortunes that elevated Arsenal above Tottenham into fourth place and catapulted them onto greater heights in this campaign.
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 14 away games and, despite the daunting prospect of facing last year's Champions League finalists in their own arena, manager, Arsène Wenger, said: "We take belief from our form away from home. We play everywhere to win. That will not change and we will have a positive attitude in our game.
"Maybe we had not the same belief at home [Arsenal lost 2-1 to Dortmund a fortnight ago] because we failed in a few big home games and you could feel there was a bit more scepticism and less belief maybe at home. Hopefully we got that behind us now with the Liverpool game."
The Dortmund coach, Jürgen Klopp, was far more sceptical. "I wouldn't say they are more dangerous away – they are always dangerous home and away – but every game has its own history," he said. "We have analysed the game against Munich. It was pretty close until the end.
"We actually believe that it is an advantage to play at home and if we put all our quality on the pitch, we are very hard to play against. We are also very well prepared.
"Even if we had won the last 70 games at home, it wouldn't make any difference tomorrow. It would be just a history, just statistics so therefore I wouldn't say the 14 games [unbeaten] away are an advantage."
Arsenal's run of 13 victories and one draw on the road is an impressive statistic although closer scrutiny reveals this is by some distance their toughest test since that night in Munich.
The subsequent 13 results came against Swansea (twice), West Bromwich Albion (three times), Fulham (twice), Queen's Park Rangers, Newcastle, Fenerbahce, Sunderland, Marseilles and Crystal Palace; not one of those domestic sides currently sits in the Premier League's top eight.
Dortmund's victory at the Emirates Stadium reinforces the notion that Klopp's side – who hammered Stuttgart 6-1 on Friday – are the biggest obstacle to Arsenal's hopes of reaching the knockout stages for the 14th consecutive season. "I believe we lost the first game because we absolutely wanted to win it at any cost and we exposed ourselves," said Wenger. "In the end, we got caught on the counter-attack because we were all up front. We pushed forward because we were not happy with the draw.
"That's what happened in the game. I don't think it will affect us. It will strengthen the resolve of my team because they will want to come out and show a different level."
While Jack Wilshere did not travel due to an ankle problem, those able to display that resolve will include striker Olivier Giroud, who reflected last night on how far he has come since 2008, when his coach at Grenoble, Mehmed Bazdarevic, deemed the Frenchman "did not have the level to play among the elite".
"Everything I did on the pitch is my answer for people who wanted to blame me, maybe," he said. "I tried to do my job on the pitch and score goals and never mind other people. I believe in my qualities and my game so I don't care about it. But it was a good inspiration for me."
Belfast Telegraph Digital