Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Time That Arsenal Conquered New Peaks in Europe; Fifteen Seasons in a Row in the Knockout Stages Is Impressive but Wenger's Men Must Now Show They Can Handle the Best

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Time That Arsenal Conquered New Peaks in Europe; Fifteen Seasons in a Row in the Knockout Stages Is Impressive but Wenger's Men Must Now Show They Can Handle the Best

Article excerpt

N many ways this occasion perfectly summed up the dilemma over Arsene Wenger's enduring worth to Arsenal.

IOn a night when Liverpool showed just how difficult qualifying for the knockout stage of the Champions League can be, Arsenal established an early authority they ultimately never relinquished against a Borussia Dortmund side for once unable to shake off their sub-standard domestic form on the European stage.

This was the Dortmund that are third bottom of the Bundesliga and not the one that had swept all before them for the concession of a solitary goal in four Group D matches.

Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp claimed in the build-up he felt like he was "on holiday" from their league travails and his team never performed with the intensity or incision in the final third expected of a team bristling with intent.

There was the odd scare -- largely due to Arsenal again committing large numbers forward, often unnecessarily, in the first half before a more measured approach in the second -- but however diluted Dortmund were, the Gunners deserve credit for asserting themselves to better effect at both ends of the pitch than against Manchester United last Saturday. Arsenal have now reached the last 16 of Europe's premier competition for 15 consecutive seasons and regardless of whatever flaws Wenger has, that is an undeniably impressive benchmark for consistency and durability. It is perhaps the last aspect of Wenger's latter day management that is unquestionable -- an impenetrable shield the Frenchman thrusts out when under fire from all sides over perceived underachievement.

But was there enough in this performance to suggest Arsenal's stay in the latter stages will be anything other than the brief, glorious failure it has become in recent years? Alexis Sanchez marvelled once again, scoring his 10th goal in as many matches, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's fine form continued, Yaya Sanogo scored his first goal for the club -- at last -- and back-up goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez produced a display suggesting he could step in should Wojciech Szczesny become more erratic. Sanogo's night ended early when he came off with a hamstring injury while Mikel Arteta (below) exited with a calf problem.

Arsenal do not need to look like world-beaters at this stage but despite securing safe passage to the next phase once again, it is hard to see Arsenal sustaining the level needed to defeat Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and their ilk, raising familiar questions about whether Wenger is capable of leading the Gunners to the very pinnacle.

Is the cycle of finishing in the top four and then reaching the last 16 only to never threaten winning either the Premier League and the Champions League enough for Arsenal now their financial shackles have been freed? …

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