Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Borussia Dortmund

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.

12 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Borussia Dortmund

  1. santori says:

    You’ve covered all the ground on this one for sure!

    Might like to see Arsharvin come on at some stage particularly if Dortmund sit tight and we are without joy.

    Very tricky fixture to say the least.

  2. Shahr says:

    I just hope Wenger doesn’t go kami kaze on attack. If you will recall the games against MU and Chelsea particularly Drogba who socored an incredible 13 goals against the gunners.
    Better play anti soccer and win ugly though it is against the FM’s philosophy. He better note the name of the game is winning.Btw against Norwich I saw some of the mararthon passing in the last twenty minutes.This could play into the hands of Dortmund.
    And please get ready for the long range shooting by the germans in the Gunnere goal mouth.

  3. Artytetter says:


    They pressed the he’ll out of us last time. Will really need some strong passing from the back. Prediction 0-0

  4. Artytetter says:

    They pressed the he’ll out of us last time. Will really need some strong passing from the back. Prediction 0-0

  5. Aussie Jack says:

    Excellent article Desi. The line up seems to be widely accepted, like some others my only concern is Mertesacker who is very slow to recover and methodical in his short passes. He never seems to run more than 100 yards in the entire match. I don`t think being German will help him unless he shouts a few chosen words to upset them

  6. Devil says:

    Well for me if we can’t get a goal in first 15minutes then sit deep and let them have the ball but don’t let them penetrate. They have just had a real high energy game with Bayern which they could have lost but that game must take a toll on them. We have to hit them when they’re tired and till then keep it very tight at the back.

    For me Theo starts on the bench, Benayoun on the left, so that Santos has enough cover. And Theo comes on fresh and raring to go after 65mins when they start to tire out and we can hit them on the break.

    Apart from that Ignasi didnt play for reserves last night, any chance of him being involved? And I didn’t see Arteta on training video either, is he missing?

    • dMago says:

      I disagree with Theo being on the bench, his days as a super sub are over. When he starts the opposition fullback sits deep as does the rest of their defence, which allows our team to push up the field and harass them with attack after attack.

  7. zaragooner says:

    With Manchester Teams lost last night, we’re the only English Club that will play tonight. Let’s show to them and win this game!!! Nice post desi. I expect a tight game, and in the end, we will win this. We’re mentally and physically ready to face them. The only thing that worrying me they know our ‘left weakness’ so i expect Arteta/Song will cover the back pace, in the event that Santos want to play forward. Our midfield is a key in this game. We need an early goal, so i hope we can control and display more attacking game.. All the best to the Gunners..Up the Arsenal!

  8. OBA says:

    3 points ARSENAL!

  9. Ezekiel says:

    Dat gud….

  10. ilham surtila says:

    maybe we can use the strength and power our diaby.. if ramsey/walcot/gervinho not in his best this man (and arshavin too) can change the games.. still we need 3 points to avoid like barca or real..

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