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Tactical Analysis

Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal: Tactical Analysis

Group F was always going to provide us with a few exciting games. Many have lamented the fact that Europe’s elite competition has stopped being well, elite which leads to some of the smaller, less prestigious clubs featuring in the group stages. This means that we witness quite a few one sided games with the traditional heavyweights usually brushing aside the so called weaker teams. However, there was absolutely no danger of that happening in Group F which featured Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, Napoli and Marseille.

On hindsight, game week 4 was a moving day in this group with Napoli edging Marseille out 3-2 and more pertinently to this article, Dortmund falling at home to an impressive Arsenal side. Let’s take a closer look at the how’s and why’s of the game which finished Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal.

Lineups made using Tactical Pad. Click here to know more.

Lineups made using Tactical Pad. Click here to know more.


Both teams were unchanged from the weekend and lined up in their customary 4-2-3-1 formation. For the home side, Subotic and Sokratis formed the heart of the defence in Hummels’ absence. The trio of Reus, Mkhitaryan and Kuba slotted in behind Lewandowski with Aubameyang featuring on the bench. There were no surprises in the Arsenal lineup with Wenger keeping faith in the same side that got the better of Liverpool. Flamini missed out due to injury leaving Arteta and Ramsey to form the midfield two.

Arsenal’s Positional Fluidity

Ramsey going forward while Cazorla drops deep via Tactical Pad

Ramsey going forward while Cazorla drops deep via Tactical Pad

In our tactical analysis of their game against Liverpool (can be found here) we spoke about how the trio of Rosicky, Ozil and Cazorla were always interchanging positions and creating triangles with Giroud. With the same lineup featuring against Dortmund, we were expecting to see more of the same but that’s where we (and Dortmund) were caught out. Yes to an extent the fluidity we saw on Saturday between the 3 was present but last night there was an added dimension. Often when Arsenal had the ball, Cazorla would drop deep and pick up the ball to influence the game from deeper areas while at the same time Aaron Ramsey would bypass the Spaniard and add a different threat in attack. This of course can be plainly seen in the goal that eventually separated the 2 sides but this wasn’t a solitary instance by any means. On numerous occasions in the 1st half Ramsey bombed forward and provided support to Giroud.

Tame 1st half for Dortmund

Dortmund is synonymous with high pressing and searingly fast attacks where they transition from defence to attack in the blink of an eye. This was lacking in the 1st half of the game. Barring the Mkhitaryan chance in the 36th minute, one which he really should have taken, Dortmund didn’t really penetrate the Arsenal defence as one would expect them to. Their main attacking threat came in the form of an overlapping Kevin Großkreutz who was more than willing to make forward runs.

Arsenal’s solidity

Arsenal's interceptions in the 1st Half via

Arsenal’s interceptions in the 1st Half via

Arsenal's fouls in the 1st half via

Arsenal’s fouls in the 1st half via

To pull up Dortmund on their 1st half attacking limitations without factoring in Arsenal’s solidity would be unfair to both sides. Arsenal’s approach to containing the Dortmund attack was two-fold. The first was a combination of interceptions and fouls high up the pitch as seen in the above graphics. This prevented Dortmund from transitioning quickly and thus protected the Arsenal defence. The second approach from Arsenal was to seek security in numbers. They were quick to drop back and defend deep when Dortmund had the ball thus making it difficult for the home side to get behind the defence. Indeed, the only time they did do led to the aforementioned Mkhitaryan chance.

Dortmund’s Change of gear

Dortmund's goal attempts in the period of 45-60 minutes via

Dortmund’s goal attempts in the period of 45-60 minutes via

Dortmund come out in the 2nd half firing on all cylinders. The intensity that was lacking in the 1st half was back and truth be told until Arsenal’s goal they were all over the Gunners’ defence. Reus who had a quiet 1st half was popping up in more central positions and was a nuisance for Arsenal. Lewandowski, Kuba and Mkhitaryan were all streaming forward in attack but just couldn’t unlock the Arsenal defence. This siege on Arsenal’s goal was relentless for the initial stages of the 2nd half and they should have made this spell count but they were wasteful with Reus missing the best chance.

Arsenal’s gamble paying off

Aaron Ramsey's heat map shows he wasn't afraid of joining the attack via

Aaron Ramsey’s heat map shows he wasn’t afraid of joining the attack via

With Dortmund unleashing wave after wave of attack, Wenger was faced with a conundrum. Arteta had already been booked in the 1st half and was walking a tightrope after subsequently committing a number of niggling fouls. With Flamini injured, the Arsenal back 4 didn’t enjoy the protection usually provided by the Frenchman. Thus with Arteta’s defensive zeal handicapped by the danger of a sending off, it would’ve been easy for Arsene Wenger to instruct Ramsey to sit deep alongside Arteta and not make any more of his forward runs (see Arsenal’s Positional Fluidity above). However, the experienced manager saw that Dortmund were attacking in numbers, as is their norm, and thus identified that they could still be exposed on the counter. This gamble could have gone wrong but Wenger has to be lauded for sticking to his plan. And almost inevitably it was Ramsey who was in the penalty area to head home the solitary goal of the match.

Arsenal’s Maturity

Arsenal sitting deep in the last 20 minutes via

Arsenal sitting deep in the last 20 minutes via

Soon after Arsenal scored the goal, it looked like they would go for the kill especially with Dortmund’s defence looking shaky against the likes of Giroud, Ozil and Rosicky. There’s been a lot of talk about this being a ‘new Arsenal’ with plenty of comparisons with the ‘old Arsenal’. This might be fanciful as there hasn’t been an upheaval at the North London club but last night showed that as a club they have indeed matured. They chased the 2nd goal for a brief spell but after that they were content to remain organized behind the ball. And crucially they made sure there was an outlet for the defence. Giroud didn’t get his goal but was always a constant menace, Ozil played his part in bringing the ball out into the opposition half. All this meant that the push from Dortmund to find the equalizer didn’t arrive and Arsenal were home and dry.


It was the cliched game of 2 halves with the 1st flattering to deceive. The 2nd though exploded into life and Dortmund will regret not making their spell of dominance early in the 2nd half count. Arsenal will be pleased with their exploits in Germany. Their defence spearheaded by Mertesacker and Koscielny was solid and as a team there’s much to be happy about for the Premier League leaders. Beating Dortmund in their backyard with a clean sheet to boot is no mean feat. With Dortmund and Napoli to face each other, Arsenal will now fancy their chances of topping the group.

Did you notice a tactical aspect of the game that we missed? If so, do leave a comment below. Make sure you follow us on Twitter @OOTB_football and like us on Facebook. We’re on Google+ and Tumblr as well for those interested.


Arnab Ray

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