Dortmund 2-0 Arsenal | Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan had enough chances, but Borussia Dortmund could not turn their superiority into more goals. Nevertheless, Dortmund kicked off their Champions League campaign on Tuesday night with a resounding 2-0 win over Arsenal in the opening duel of Group D.
Line-up & Formation
Dortmund (4-4-1-1): Weidenfeller–Durm, Subotić, Sokratis, Schmelzer (Jojić 79‘) – Kehl (Ginter 45‘), Bender– Mkhitaryan, Grosskreutz – Aubameyang–Immobile (Ramos 86‘)
Arsenal (4-1-4-1): Szczęsny – Bellerín, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta (Podolski 77‘) – Sánchez, Ramsey (Cazorla 62‘), Wilshere, Özil (Oxlade-Chamberlain 62‘) – Welbeck
Goals: Immobile 45’, Aubameyang 53’
Jürgen Klopp had to make a couple of changes due to injuries. Therefore, the Dortmund coach shuffled the midfield a bit. Both holding midfielders Sebastian Kehl and Sven Bender were in the starting line-up playing behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 hybrid. Ciro Immobile moved up front while Erik Durm replaced Łukasz Piszczek on the right side, with Marcel Schmelzer coming back and playing as left full-back.
For Arsenal, Arsène Wenger also had to rearrange his squad. The 19-year-old HéctorBellerín started in place of the injured right full-back Mathieu Debuchy. Mathieu Flamini had to make way for Mikel Arteta, who operated in behind Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey. Wilshere tried to ensure connection between defence and attack, usually dropping deeper than Ramsey during the initial build-up play.
Arsenal were unable to live with the intensity and speed of Dortmund during the first half. The Schwarzgelben dominated the centre with a tight formation. Both holding midfielders and both forwards stood horizontally very narrow. Moreover, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Kevin Grosskreutz drifted inwardly and moved up through the half spaces. Consequently, the centre pass paths were blocked, and Arsenal were lead outwardly. When an Arsenal player had the ball at his feet on a flank, two or three Dortmund players tried to isolate him.
The most fascinating aspect of Klopp’s side was how the midfield row and both strikers created funnels around Arteta as Arsenal seemed to be awkward in that area. Wenger’s side could not find any space in the middle of the pitch, and Wilshere or Ramsey continuously gave the ball away whenever they found themselves overran by Dortmund’s midfield pressing.
Dortmund’s attacking structure
Klopp surprised flooding the midfield with two defensive midfielders on the pitch during the 90 minutes. However, both Kehl and Bender are not deep-lying playmakers, who can create offences; Bender moved out into the left half spaces and concealed himself, while Kehl stood in front of both centre-backs, and could play a couple of passes undisturbed. Meanwhile, Neven Subotić impersonated Mats Hummels, who was side-lined again, as the Serbian international pushed forward out of the back-line.
The first goal came from Ciro Immobile picking up a cleared ball in the middle of the pitch. The Italian forward ran straight at a nervous Laurent Koscielny, while Kieran Gibbs made an unwise run coming from the left wing. There was no pressure on Immobile at all, and he found himself in the Arsenal box.
Another interesting facet was Aubameyang’s movement. The Gabon international picked up a couple of balls deep in the midfield and distributed them to the likes of Mkhitaryan and Grosskreutz. Dortmund based most of their build-up play in front of the Arsenal box, where they found plenty of space. The Schwarzgelben had time to pull their opponents apart and Arsenal played passively. None of the Gunners could stop Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s continuous runs into the Arsenal box and it seemed that they sometimes opened up the centre ‘voluntarily’ as they led Dortmund’s strikers to their own goalkeeper.
Three minutes after the restart Kevin Grosskreutz clipped the ball behind Per Mertesacker and Aubameyang picked it up in front of Szczesny to go around the goalkeeper for the second goal. Two goals behind, Arsenal pushed forward. The full-backs moved high up the pitch, but Dortmund used the holes and played quick balls into the channels for runs of Immobile and Aubameyang. With two strikers, the isolation on the wing through the ball-oriented movement and the positioning within their lines they were able to attack all relevant spaces defensively and then counter with two players upfront for the first pass and up to five players at the second ball. Dortmund however, were not ruthless enough and blew a couple of goal scoring attempts, when the winning margin could have so easily been much larger.
Arsenal’s slow build-up play
Instead of their usual ball circulation, Arsenal were isolated in their own half. They only came forward on the wings, but because of their 4-1-4-1 formation the wide wingers rarely had the opportunity to be effective because the attack channels were unsuitable and most of their attacks were eaten up by the very intense ball-oriented movement of Dortmund.
The Schwarzgelben were able to press in the front line or in pairs, and showed everything defensively in an absolutely world-class performance. Their wingers always had access to multiple passes. The holding midfielders were also excellent; the centre-backs pushed well forward and partially protected the wide track of the full-back from Alexis Sanchéz or Mesut Özil. There was hardly any space in between the lines for Arsenal.
Where does this leave them?
Dortmund picked up three points and showed the world once again that perhaps Klopp’s side is the best team in terms of pressing and ball-orientation. The match really should have won by a stronger margin than just two goals. “It was nearly perfection,” Klopp said after the game.
Meanwhile, Arsenal looked like they played without a midfield. Although, Arteta, Ramsey and Wilshere were fielded in the centre, they displayed a lack of playmaking abilities as they could not set the rhythm and were surprisingly outplayed by the likes of Kehl, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan.
Despite the result, both teams should see themselves through to the next round, but a win for Dortmund means they can go on for that coveted top spot.
Written by Constantin Eckner.
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