This home game against Borussia Dortmund could turn out to be tougher than the away visit to Chelsea. It probably won’t have as many goals and will be tighter in the middle, but from a physical and mental point of view the players will have to give at least as much if not more than that celebrated triumph.
The first thing many associate with the Germans is pressing. Arsenal got a firsthand experience of that at the Signal Iduna Park with a number of suffocating spells. Klopp has instilled superb structure and discipline in his side which helps their play without the ball. They start with a line around the halfway mark with one or two players ahead, pressing the defenders trying to play out from the back. If the defenders try to retain the ball, Dortmund players slowly but surely push forward cohesively to win the ball back. It either forces a mistake or the ball goes back to the Keeper for a hoof down the ground, usually resulting in a change of possession.
Arsenal will have to find a way of getting past this pressure and exerting their own when the visitors build from back. The Gunners have a similar approach to pressing but aren’t quite as well coordinated. This opens gaps for opponents to exploit and often leaves the players chasing the ball towards their own goal. However, in recent games the midfield and defence have been a lot more compact. It must remain that way without fail against a German side quite capable of punishing errors.
One simple way of judging how Arsenal are faring is to estimate the speed with which the ball enters the defensive third and the manner in which it goes out. If there are a number of panicky clearances resulting in frequent attacks, one can be certain Arsenal are in trouble. Dogged defending can work but Wenger will want to avoid giving Dortmund the initiative.
That means Arsenal have to hold the ball better under pressure. Ramsey and Song will have to ensure they are not caught in possession or lose the ball with a heavy touch. I expect the midfield to play deeper and for Gervinho to drift inside into central positions on occasion. The defenders will find it hard to move the ball if the midfield pushes forward. That will also leave the back four vulnerable if possession is lost when half the side is running upfield. Dortmund will force mistakes and get in behind if the distance between the defence and midfield increases in an effort to go forward. It’s a fine balance that Arsenal have to achieve. Song and Arteta in particular should be in positions that enable them to get between the ball and Szczesny when possession is lost.
Van Persie should also look to drop deeper into the gap between the lines and he will have to work hard to shake off the attentions of Hummel. This can create angles for Theo and Gervinho to run into and should cause problems for the Dortmund backline. For such a tactic to work it’s also important the wide players don’t get sucked too deep to defend. Again greater emphasis should be placed on the midfield’s role in front of the back four. Santana is likely to partner Hummel in the centre of defence. He is a good player but could err under pressure. Gervinho should be ready to pounce on loose touches or erratic passes.
I expect both teams to pose a threat from the wide areas. Arsenal have exceptional pace that can rip the Black Yellows to shreds if the passing is quick and players in sync. Dortmund have the skill on the ball to run rings around the full-backs with one-twos and incisive moves. Arsenal are vulnerable as the players are caught ball watching at times and don’t track the runs or intercept passes in behind as well as one would expect from a top team. Arteta and Vermaelen will have to be particularly alert to this threat if Götze starts on their right.
Both teams have gained form and confidence since they last met. This should be to Arsenal’s advantage if they can avoid getting pinned back. The improved understanding between the players will come in handy but the need to avoid basic individual errors cannot be overemphasized.
While Dortmund are a very good ball-playing side, they are also adept at kicking it long to Lewandowski who does an excellent job of holding it and bringing others into play. The visitors are also competent at set-pieces.
Wenger’s defenders will have to attack the balls into the box without hesitation and midfielders will have to sweep in front of the box to cut out shooting opportunities from cut-backs and square passes.
Arsenal are at the top of the group but cannot risk a reversal in this game as it would throw the group wide open. Getting three points in Greece will not be easy on the final matchday. A positive start with a fast tempo could give the Gunners the advantage. An early goal will force the visitors to be more expansive and will open excellent counter-attacking opportunities.
As far as the starting line-up goes, I don’t expect any changes from Arsene. There is a need to rotate but I am not convinced Wenger has enough strength (form and confidence) on the bench for such a game.
Szczesny – Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos – Song, Arteta, Ramsey – Walcott, RvP, Gervinho.
Some fans aren’t convinced by the big German’s efforts thus far but he knows the opponents better than anyone else. There isn’t sufficient cause for a change unless someone is physically struggling. Arsenal are on a good run and a sturdy performance in this game will add to the gradually renewing confidence.
This looks like a very evenly matched game and it’s hard to predict which side will blink first. The Gunners have to build on the fighting display of the second half in Germany and add some bite to go with the grind. The visitors must be flying high after a massive win against an impressive Bayern side. But they could end up paying a heavy price if they underestimate this resurgent and resilient Arsenal side.
May the best team win.
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Update: Just wanted to add this link to a stat-based tactical analysis of the Norwich game that I did for Epl Index.