Arsenal 1 – 2 Dortmund: Tactical Analysis

Arsenal 1 – 2 Dortmund

Spirits have been high at Ashburton Grove so far this season, as Arsenal have performed stunningly to move to the top of the table in England and in Europe. This game against Dortmund was touted as their toughest test of the season thus far, as the finalists from last season came looking for some much needed points in this ‘Group of Death’.

Arsenal came into the game with one major injury concern, as Flamini missed out after his concussion on the weekend. Besides that, there were no surprises sprung by The Professor. Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker and Gibbs were the back 4 in front of Sczcesny. Arteta too up the sitting role in front of the defence. Ramsey started off as the box to box midfielder, with Rosicky, Ozil and Wilshere ahead of them from left to right. The lone man up front was, as always, Giroud.

Dortmund also started with 9 of the team that began the Champions League finale at Wembley in May. Weidenfeller had the now usual 4 of Grosskreutz, Subotic, Hummels and Schmelzer in front of him. Bender and Sahin were the deep midfielders, and Kuba, Mkhitaryan, and Reus ahead of him. The in demand Robert Lewandowski started up front.

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Dortmund Pressing

Borussia Dortmund have a poor away record in European games, and that probably has something to do with their game plan. Der BVB always look to press the opposition into submission, and often, it ends in them getting picked off. However, it was not always case during this game against the Gunners, as they really troubled Arsenal. They attempted a large number of  tackles and interceptions in the midfield and were quite successful as well. In fact, this pressing troubled the Gunners to a very large extent, and they even conceded the first goal after Ramsey lost it to Reus on the edge of the area. Arsenal had a bit of trouble building up their play from the back and the central areas were they love to build from. In general, it was a poor passing performance from Arsenal. They usually complete 84% of their passes, but they only managed about 82% today. The usually flawless Ramsey and Ozil were dispossessed 4 times each in the course of the match.

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However, on the few occasions that Arsenal did manage to gain control of the ball and avoid the waves of pressure, Dortmund were quick to get back into their shape. The mode of defence changed completely once Arsenal had found their rhythm, with the Dortmund team happy to make two lines of 4, and jockey the Arsenal player on the ball, rather than press him in an aggressive pursuit of the ball.

The other point to note was the direction of Dortmund’s pressing. Dortmund were consciously looking to show the Arsenal players inside to the crowded center. Arsenal lacked any natural wide players up front, and this tactic made sense as Arsenal struggled to make many chances, especially in the first half. A ploy Arsenal tried to use to sometimes avoid the onrushing Dortmund players was to chip the ball over them and play passes. The Arsenal players lifted the ball a large number of times during the game.

A number of interceptions from Dortmund in midfield via squawka.com

A number of interceptions from Dortmund in midfield
via squawka.com

Arsenal Wide Play

Arsenal had to start without the injured Theo Walcott, and with Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain out to a long term injury, Arsenal were left without any real width. This wasn’t helped by the fact that Wilshere and Rosicky, two players who are nominally central, manned the wide areas. This meant that they started the game playing very narrow, and this played into Dortmund’s hands, as they were attempting to make crowded areas while defending to aid their pressing. Wenger though, recognised this, and changed it very quickly. The aim for Arsenal soon became to bring the full backs forward as much as possible. This happened quite a bit on the right hand side, with Ramsey, Sagna and Wilshere spending a fair amount of time in this region of the pitch. In the second half, it was Ozil who was on the right hand side, creating all sorts of chances for his team. The injection of width was necessary for Arsenal to bypass and avoid the high pressure from the Dortmund players in the central areas. It worked well to the extent that the wide areas became the main source of threat from Arsenal. This was probably also caused partially due to Dortmund trying to show Arsenal inside and crowding the center, and as a result ignoring the wings. The Arsenal goal ultimately came from a cross whipped in.

In the second half, Arsenal tried to stretch the play quite a bit, and to this effect, a number of cross field passes were also tried by the Gunners. Cazorla came on for Wilshere and almost immediately hit a very precise cross field pass towards the right to create a chance.

Arsenal used a lot of wide play eventually. via squawka.com

Arsenal used a lot of wide play eventually.
via squawka.com

Dortmund Wide Play

The team from the Ruhr were sensitive to the narrow nature of the Arsenal formation and team, and hence were always on the look-out for an opportunity to exploit the wide areas and attack the full backs. Even in the beginning of the match, they tried a lot of one-twos in and around the full backs in an attempt to isolate them, and brought their own ones, Schmelzer and Grosskreutz forward very often. This attacking approach eventually turned into a fine counter attacking tactic when Arsenal began pushing their full backs forward to take advantage of the space in front of them. The attacking wide men had space and chances to put in crosses, and fired in almost as many as the home side. One player who had a number of opportunities to do this was Kevin Grosskreutz. The German is certainly a hard worker, and offers boundless energy from a position that is alien to him. Klopp however, would do well to work hard with him on his delivery, as it could add a lethal edge to his game. He had some great chances to provide crosses, but failed to do so. Of the 3 he did attempt, 2 were accurate, and one of course, led to the winning goal.

Conclusion

Dortmund showed verve and were fearless enough to attack and press Arsenal in their own den. They were rewarded for this approach with 3 points to make the group very interesting. Arsenal Napoli and Dortmund are now level on 6 points each at the top, with Marsielle stranded on 0. One feels that Dortmund have the advantage, as they face both other contenders at home now, with Arsenal facing tricky trips to San Paolo and the Signal Iduna Park in the coming weeks.

Over to you! That was our analysis the clash, was there anything particular that you (tactically) noticed? Let us know by dropping a comment below.

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Vishal Patel

Editor and Co-Founder
Massive Chelsea supporter. Follow Mourinho and love Ronaldinho. Enjoy discussing tactics anytime, anywhere. Enjoy watching the Italian National team as well.
  • Gabe Vino

    Good article! I expect EPL teams that will play Arsenal soon to utilize Dortmund’s ideas and try to show Arsenal players towards the centre.

    • Vishal Patel

      Thanks Gabe. But I feel it will be very different once Walcott comes back. He’s very quick, and that serves as a good outlet for them.

      • Gabe Vino

        Until he does come back from injury, that will be the way that other teams will try to play against Arsenal. After Walcott is back, opponents will have to find another method of stopping them.

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