Despite losing 2-1 in Dortmund – their second successive Champions League defeat – Arsenal qualified from Group A along with the Bundesliga champions.
A fine Thierry Henry free kick had given the visitors the lead, but an own goal from Gilberto Silva and a penalty fromCzech youngster Tomas Rosicky sealed the win for Dortmund. And it was the impressive Rosicky for whom coach Matthias Sammer reserved a large portion of post match praise.
“Tomas has got his head right despite only being a young player,” Sammer said.
“The way he kept his nerve when he took the penalty was great and his free-kick (leading to Dortmund’s equaliser) was very important for us as well.”
Sammer also gave credit to his side for fighting back after going a goal down in the first half.
“We did really well because there are easier situations than twice hitting the post and going a goal down against a side like Arsenal.
“We kept our cool and managed to come back. Therefore it was a tremendous performance. The club has achieved something really big today.”
Lars Ricken and Jan Koller both hit the woodwork, but the coach was always confident that his team would get back in the game.
“I knew that if we continued to push forward we would get the result we needed because we were playing well as a team.”
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was unimpressed however by referee Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzales’ decision to award Dortmund’s decisive penalty. Jan Koller, put through by Rosicky, tumbled theatrically under a challenge by ‘keeper David Seaman, and Wenger was critical of the official and Koller.
‘The referee made the chance,’ added Wenger.
‘Full crediit to him: he scored a good second goal. Well done to him. He deserves a good mention.
“It was a clear dive by Koller. From a side that accused us of diving it was a good return. I feel hard done by,” complained Wenger.
Highbury midfield star Patrick Vieira also felt Koller dived. “I feel sorry for the referee because he made the wrong decision. David (Seaman) went for the ball and the guy (Koller) had no chance.”
“Even if he passed David, there was no chance he would get the ball and score and that guy just dived.”
But he refused to condemn Koller, who denied a dive, saying: “It is disappointing, of course. But in the end fair play to him,”
“Sometimes it works for us and tonight it went against us – you just have to accept it and get on with it,” Vieira added.
Arsenal have now lost four games in a row, but Wenger is refusing to accept that last night’s defeat will affect the spirit of the team.
“I don’t think tonight’s defeat will have a big impact on morale. It wasn’t a shame to lose, it was just frustrating,” he said. “
We must take the positives and go into our next game, and in the second half I can’t remember Dortmund creating a chance because they had nothing left in the tank, so for us to lose like that is deeply disappointing.”
Elsewhere, Auxerre were eliminated from the competition courtesy of a 3-0 defeat at PSV. Auxerre’s cause was hardly helped by the sendings off of key duo Olivier Kapo and Phillipe Mexes, who is this week being linked to a summer move to Juventus.
Mexes was dismissed after a mad four minute first half spell that saw him pick up two yellow cards, while Kapo received his marching orders for an elbow on PSV defender Kevin Hoflund. Frustrated coach Gux Roux accepted Kapo’s red card, but was left ruing the 26th minute dismissal of Mexes after it ultimately destroyed Auxerre’s chances of victory.
“This is a sad evening for us. I can’t understand how Mexes got a red card,” revealed a disappointed Roux.
“Olivier Kapo made a silly, huge mistake which saw him rewarded with a red card too, but all in all I feel it’s a bit rash,” he added.
PSV coach Guus Hiddink was left dwelling on the previous two poor home showings which severely handicapped the Dutch outfit’s chances of qualification.
“We didn’t achieve our goal, but only because we failed to play it smart during our previous two home matches,” he said.
“I believe we learned that when you’re not capable of winning a match you have to be satisfied with a draw. Personal mistakes made the difference then and tonight we proved that we can control a match and win it,” reflected the former South Korea boss.