Borussia Dortmund treat Arsenal to a taste of their medicine
In the end there were two Arsenals: the one fromNorth London and the one from the westernmost region of Germany. Both teams tried to play the same way but for a long time last night, Borussian Dortmund out-Arsenaled The Gunners and did everything the way they would have wanted to. In the end, Arsenal will be content with the draw although it leaves with a bit of a sour taste due to the way it came; Ivan Perišić’s wonder goal from the edge of the box came on the 88th minute. For Dortmund though, it was a spectacular way to mark their return to the biggest stage but it was the way they played, that ensured that their return is warranted.
Jurgen Klopp’s side outclassed Arsenal but for profligacy in front of goal, we could have seen a different result. For much of the match they had The Gunners boxed inside – partly due to the way Arsenal were set up – but also because of asphyxiating pressure they put them under. Dortmund pressed – very hard – and it seemingly looked as if they wouldn’t let up. Indeed, they couldn’t because their game plan hinged on stopping Arsenal getting forward so that they themselves could spend as much time in the opponents half as much as possible. When it didn’t pay off – such as a spell of ten minutes in the second-half and around an hour or so – they panicked. But other than that, Dortmund were superb.
They pressed high up the pitch, never letting the defence play the ball out from the back and quickly putting pressure on Arsenal’s sole holding midfielder, Alex Song. They created a line when they didn’t have the ball and that made it hard for Arsenal to pass through. It was particularly effective when it got wide as they suffocated Bakary Sagna for space and closed down his passing options. At full-back, there’s a limited number of passing options you can make as the square ball to your stronger side is effectively null (because of the touchline). And whenever they got the ball, the movement was intelligent and incisive, Mario Gotze in particular was a handful, drifting in from the left but the real plus was the return in form of Shinji Kagawa who ran the channels very well as the “false 10”.
Arsenal’s problems, however, were as much self-inflicted as Dortmund’s mechanical pressing forced them. They played a high-line which BVB constantly sought to get men beyond but it was a lack of cohesion in front that was the real cause of the trouble. Arsenal’s 4-3-3 isn’t the real problem although in this game, there were valid assertions that they should have gone with a 4-2-3-1. Perhaps an available Arséne Wenger in the dugouts would have altered the team as he did in the second-half against Swansea. But the overriding flaw in Arsenal’s game is that it just doesn’t work – you can’t not press and play a high line at the same time – and for that you can accuse Wenger of tactical naivety. Maybe it’s just that; that he’s trying to account for his team’s youthfulness that sees him focusing firstly on shape before they press but that merely invites the opposition at them.
At Signal Iduna Park, Arsenal allowed Dortmund to stride forward with ball from the back and as the midfield attempted to organise itself in their own half, the back four pushed up at the same time. As a result, the two nearly collapsed on top of each other to become one indistinguishable band.Dortmund pushed their full-backs further up the pitch penning Arsenal in their own half and that meant the formation almost became a 7-3. As it showed; you can’t not press and play a high a line at the same time; they’re two incompatible beings.Dortmund showed how it should have been done, pushing the excellent Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic forward and the midfield and attack pressing high up the pitch as a unit. Sebastian Kehl’s error for Arsenal’s goal showed the risks an expansive game has as ironically, it was one of the few times Arsenal closed down high up the pitch that the opener came from. Theo Walcott’s pass to find Robin van Persie after a neat interchange was wonderfully weighted.
That was one of the few good moments from Arsenal and considering the pressure they were put under, they defended with their backs-to-the-wall superbly. And at periods their passing was snappy and direct but that was mixed with some woefully inaccurate ones too. Strong individual performances go to Laurent Koscielny and Song who recovered from nervy starts while Mikel Arteta showed the assurance Arsenal need technically as well as tactically even if it wasn’t the dominant performance he was signed for.
However, despite the nature of the performance and the end result, the fact that a second anxious game in a row didn’t result in a defeat will see Arsenal’s confidence grow. If that keeps happening, Arsenal will surely recover their former glories. And who knows, maybe then they will reach the level that Borussia Dortmund showed in UEFA Champions League Match Day 1!
Next Up: Chalkboard Analysis – How Dortmund pressed Arsenal’s full-backs and the problem with Wenger’s defensive strategy.
Filed under: Match Analysis
Tagged: Dortmund, Match Analysis
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