Arsenal 1 – 2 Borussia Dortmund: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

That was a great game of football where two very good teams showed immense respect for the opponents and worked hard to negate their strengths. Such contests are usually settled by individual moments of quality or mistakes. In this case I thought all goals were a result of mistakes, and in big games involving such instances, the odds are, unfortunately, on the Gunners to lose. In that sense, the result was hugely disappointing but not surprising.

As Wenger said after the game,

If you look at the number of saves our keeper had to make tonight and you concede two goals, you can say that we can only look at ourselves for not being mature enough in situations like that. If you cannot win the game, you don’t lose it. Especially in the second half when we were on top, we made things difficult for ourselves by giving them the second goal.

This just happens far too often, and with varying team members and tactical approaches, for it to be written off as an adverse accident. I’d say this was a predictable mishap but also one whose frequency has been curbed in recent times. The next couple of weeks are rife with accident prone areas so we will get a chance to verify the accuracy of the previous statement.

Don’t get me wrong, Arsenal weren’t bad per se. Nor were Dortmund on a different level of class as many seem to suggest. In fact, I thought the Gunners played really well for large parts of the game in defence and attack. But look back over the last few years at all the big games played and you’ll see that Wenger’s side have suffered a lot more than their opponents whenever such ties are settled by individual mistakes, particularly when there are numerous errors in the build up to the same goal including experienced players simply switching off.

The game started as expected with Dortmund relying on pressing and transitions. They had two attempts in the first six minutes. At that rate they would have tallied up around 30 shots by the end of the game. But both of those were hopeful punts from distance rather than worthwhile chances. Even so, the Gunners adapted their game early on and sat back in a strong defensive shape. The visitors did the same when they lost possession although their pressing was more intense and they didn’t drop back onto the edge of their box. Instead, their defensive approach was mostly about denying space in the central third and defending the space behind their back four by making it hard for Arsenal to pass or run into those areas. This is their bread-and-butter and I’d covered it in the preview so won’t get into it again.

The important point to take home was that neither side created much. Look at the passing charts of both teams in the first half and you  can see how sparsely populated the vital central attacking areas are.

First Half passing comparison

Dortmund managed a few more passes in the black box than the Gunners but they never really threatened. Most of their chances created were hopeful long range shots that didn’t even hit the target.

That’s also the reason the goal conceded by the Gunners was so disappointing. Ramsey had the chance to play a very simple first-time pass to Özil. I doubt he ever realized that pass was on. Instead, the Welshman attempted to dribble his way out across his own penalty area. Such tactical immaturity is agonizing for the fans, the manager, and the player himself.

Arsenal’s equalizer came from a cross on the right side that left Subotic and Weidenfeller in a muddle. It seemed to me that the Keeper had it covered and if the centre back had left the ball Giroud would not have gotten it. But the Serbian international went for a risky clearance and only succeeded in deflecting the ball away from his teammate with the gloves. It was good to see Giroud score an opportunistic goal, he doesn’t do it often enough right now.

The pattern in the build up was the fourth occasion when Arsenal had found a full-back in space and this was the only occasion when the cross came into a dangerous area. This too, remains an area where the team can improve. When you know the opponent is this good at defending the central areas you need greater precision and coordination in attacking from the wide areas. Arsenal did create some decent chances in the second half from wide on the right but that came at the risk of exposing the defence because greater numbers were committed forward.

That brings me straight to the game in the second period. The first 15 minutes or so were very similar to the opening 45 and neither side created anything of note.

45 to 60 passing comparison

The entire game changed when Wenger introduced Cazorla for Wilshere. I would have been tempted to make that change at half-time but these are always tough decisions and I’m glad he didn’t wait till the 70th minute!

60 to 81 min passing comparison

For the next 20 odd minutes Arsenal had a period of dominance they’d not experienced in the game before. I recall three good chances created during this period. Two fell to Cazorla and the other was an inviting cross from Sagna for Giroud. The Gunners just lacked a bit of efficiency and credit must also go to the visiting defence because these weren’t exactly gilt-edged opportunities.

Dortmund had only one shot in the second half. That was on target and proved to be the winner.

There are a few interesting discussion-worthy points about this goal.

Firstly, there was a very weak header from the highly rated Bender than came straight to Giroud just outside the box. The midfielder would have looked a major culprit had the striker buried his volley. But the Frenchman fluffed his attempt, whether it was a shot or a touch is hard to guess. Hummels too had made an error just a short while before when he passed the ball straight to Cazorla. Such errors are forgotten when the team wins.

Then it’s worth noting that Arsenal had a 5-v-9 in the attacking third when the ball was cleared following Giroud’s loose touch.

Arsenal facing 5 V 9 in attack

Count the number of Red and Yellow shirts. Weidenfeller is  just to the left outside the frame. That means only Lewandowski was further up the pitch for Dortmund. Arsenal had Rosicky, Özil, Arteta, and the two central defenders between this play and Szczesny’s goal.

Also note how high up the pitch Sagna, Gibbs, and Ramsey are. These are player with dual roles i.e. they join in attack and have to work hard for the defence. In this instance, all three are in very advanced positions.

From such a situation, the Gunners somehow contrived to end up 4-V-5 in their own box in a matter of seconds (again not including the Keeper and Grosskreutz is technically not in the box but he played a vital attacking role deep in Arsenal territory).

Dortmund 5 V 4 on counter

Just imagine how many players have to goof up for such a situation to arise from the position they were in at the other end. It’s also important to note that of the four players in the box one is Gibbs who had chased all the way back. And the other two on the left of the image are Sagna and Cazorla who were also in the attacking third just moments ago. There is no sign of either Rosicky or Özil. That’s just irresponsible, and from players with that kind of experience it’s simply awful.

In theory, Özil probably should have chased back because he was on the flank and should have covered behind Sagna. But he’s not a guy with a defensive mind. In which case a more defensive minded midfielder should have compensated. But sadly, Rosicky isn’t the most aware in that regard either.

Szczesny, too, was very poor for this goal. He seemed to come for the cross and then stopped before realizing he had to move across the face of his goal. He had time to get closer to the striker and cover the angle to the near post. After that if Lewandowski scored at the far post it would have been a more deserving finish because Koscielny was also in a good position to clear any shots going that way. But the Pole left a hole that proved to be Arsenal’s grave on the night.

This is not all either. There were other opportunities for the Gunners to break this attack when Lewandowski first reached the clearance and Dortmund got a chance to control the ball. More proactive defending or even a foul would have broken play up before it ever got serious. It seems safe to speculate that it would have ended in a draw at worst because the visitors seemed content with a point. They had offered very little in the preceding 20 minutes and were on the receiving end of some chances.

Arsenal have done this to some teams in the recent past, i.e. hit them on the break with ruthless efficiency against the run of play. Dortmund just gave a dose of that medicine to Wenger’s side.

That the Gunners couldn’t muster any sort of an attack in the final 10 minutes after the goal was another disappointment on the night. But it was also a measure of Dortmund’s professional style and their ability to see the game out in the Arsenal half.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: His distribution was good as he often spotted players who were free and found them accurately. Had very little to do in terms of saves or dealing with crosses. Should have done better for both goals but the first can probably be excused. However, his attempt for the second showed an error of judgment. Goalkeepers have to read these situations quickly as the play is in front of them and they can see most of the field. I’m not convinced he reacted quickly enough to what would have been a speck of yellow moving in his peripheral vision when his eyes were on the ball. That’s sometimes the difference between there and thereabouts.

Sagna: He found some space on the right on a number of occasions but only once or twice did he deliver the right ball. Then again, without defensive mistakes even that one troubling cross might have been enough to win the game. Did well against Reus for the most part. Couldn’t really have chased back for the second goal. Passing accuracy was way below his standard but I chalk that down to Dortmund’s pressing quality.

Mertesacker: Made a couple of important clearances in the second half but he had a fairly uneventful defensive game otherwise, particularly when considering the quality of the opposition attack. That’s also a tribute to Arsenal’s defending as a team for most of the game. Don’t think he shares the blame for either goal although you can argue he should have done more to win the clearance that started the counter attack.

Koscielny: I thought he had some impressive moments, particularly in individual battles with Lewandowski and Co. The stats say, and I hadn’t noticed this during the game, that he completed all 65 of his passes, which is just unbelievable against such pressing. Don’t think he should be blamed for the first goal but he did seem to move away towards the left when Ramsey did the same. It was as if he expected the Welshman to come away with the ball and wanted to create a passing option. A more experienced defender might have closed the gap between himself and Mertesacker. That way he might have had a chance to tackle Lewandowski. It’s a bit of a long shot but the gap between Arsenal’s central defenders in the build up to the first goal did stand out.

Gibbs: Had a good defensive game on the left flank with numerous useful interventions. This came about from good positioning, work rate, and calmness even under pressure. Wasn’t able to contribute much to the attack.

The defenders had a decent game. It’s hard to blame them for either goal although we can argue they could have done slightly better. The full-backs offered limited attacking utility but it seems linked to Arsenal’s inability to develop the crossing game in any purposeful manner.

Arteta: Incredible defensive work with excellent tactical awareness to get into very good positions, and won most of his individual duels. Also superb with his possession play, which was vital to minimizing lethal turnovers.

Özil: Arguably his weakest effort in his fledgling Arsenal career to date. Rarely found any space to do his thing and Arsenal didn’t have players who could get in behind. Still created a couple of very good chance once Cazorla was on. One of the two main culprits for Dortmund’s winner.

Ramsey: Wasn’t able to get in the game and saw much less of the ball than he usually does because he didn’t have the off-the-ball game for such a contest. Defensive work was decent but that mistake casts a dark shadow on everything else.

Rosicky: He seemed like a player who could bring the much needed verticality to the side and was looking to find teammates behind the Dortmund lines more often than anyone else. Also went very close with that shot. But his lack of urgency for the second goal was a major blot given the experience that he has.

Wilshere: 1/6 with his take-ons, only attempted 20 passes in an hour played and with just 65 percent accuracy. You could still pick out 3 or 4 highlights worthy individual moments but overall a disappointing game. I’m not convinced the effects of any injury were the main reason.

Cazorla: Joint MotM with Arteta in my book despite playing only for half an hour. He just got into very good positions and that opened up the game for other players too. Excellent in individual moments and very unlucky with the shot that hit the bar. Could probably have picked a clear pass to Özil instead of the disguised, tougher one for Giroud when Hummels made a bad mistake and gave the ball away.

The midfield was always going to have a tough battle against some of Europe’s best. The mistakes that led to the goal were extremely disappointing but they also produced some high quality football and overall work rate was commendable.

This might be hard for many fans to follow, particularly those with a strong emotional way of looking at things, but I thought Ramsey and Wilshere were exposed a little bit in this game. In the last few years we’ve seen many hyped up British midfielders come up short against top class European opposition and that seemed to me the case in this game with respect to those two. I don’t exactly mean this as a criticism but it should serve as a timely reminder that they both have a lot to learn. For example, Cazorla’s movement, technique, and choices were so much more developed than anything Wilshere could offer in a comparable role. Experience, of course, plays a big part but the youngsters have to realize just how far they still have to go.

Giroud: In the first half he did really well to get in behind after winning individual duels with defenders. The first one led to a free-kick and a chance for Koscielny, while the second led to Rosicky’s shot. Work rate was again top notch. As stated earlier, I also enjoyed the opportunistic nature of his goal. A lot of his flicks and one touch passes did not come off as the pace of the game was high and margin of error very low. That remains an area of improvement. Also had to develop his ability to play on the shoulder of the last defender when they’ve such a high line.

Subs: Bendtner and Gnabry had very little time on the pitch.

Wenger: There’s been genuine improvement in defending in 2013, even if it’s more of the dropping deep in numbers variety, so I’d like to see the next few big games before reading too much into the errors. For now they were just a jarring reminder of the mistakes from the recent past that can return if concentration drops or players take unnecessary risks. But if the errors are repeated and many points dropped, he will have to reconsider his approach to the game including the coaching set-up.

16 Responses to Arsenal 1 – 2 Borussia Dortmund: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. redanddread says:

    really enjoyed the analysis…….

    Spot on regarding the issue with mistakes in big games. It was an issue last season before TV5 got dropped and the team realized what was at stake re qualifying for the CL.

    This game was a big step up in class from any other this season and like you will be watching to see how we cope against the big teams over the next few weeks when one mistake let alone 2 can be so costly.

    A very good wake up call for everyone and hopefully Arsene sorts the lads out and we can push on from here.

  2. Hi Desi,

    Top class analysis as always. Just wondering how much of a difference did Flamini’s absence play a part in the game?

  3. Jeff Muller says:

    I think if Ramsey kept up he’s good for into that game arsenal would have won by a mile. I felt, he was hiding in the game after that error.

    And Gibbs showed lack of composure and inexperience in some situations. Especially in the attacking third

  4. Elysieum says:

    Hi DesiGunner

    I thought I was the only one critical of arsenal goalkeeper not doing enough to prevent the winning goal scored by Dortmund. Like you rightly analysed, I also felt he could have reacted faster in coming out to reduce the space afforded to lewandoski. None of the media analysis of the game touched upon this event. I guess that’s why I enjoyed reading your well balanced analysis.

    Overall I felt arsenal played well and if more clinical in the final third in the second half, should have gone on and win the game. I think the confidence and belief the players had in the second half that they could go on and win the game was the reason for margin of error that cost them the game; despite the opposition. In the past, Arsenal lost games in similar situation against lower opposition when they leave themselves open to counter attack.

  5. SB says:

    Nice one Desi – insightful as usual

  6. Man, that is some impressive analysis. Well read, clearly explained, convincingly argued, and very balanced. I like especially the step-by-step account and explanation of the killer second Dortmund goal. Very astute conclusions made at the end.

  7. Val says:

    Great analysis desi

  8. Antique Gunmen says:

    Greetings Desi.
    You’ve analyze the game with a knife surgery, and I think from the visitors opinion, it has been your habits. Leave other gooner wonder what else to write.
    So, I’ll make it short. I think we have loss our speedy flankers and Flamini. And also the jagged factor (no wonder) of our midfielders as Arsene “no real flankers tactics” had been played since Napoli’s game.
    I just wondered why Arsene didn’t play on Gnabry early enough. He can provide runs, and another angle of counter attack for Ozil to aim, as we coudn’t make it through the centre. If we want to bounce back in Westfallen, I think Arsene should make rotation in next fixture againts Palace this weekend.

  9. V Gun says:

    Cracking post Desi!! I really do appreciate your posts.

    Keep it up

  10. alanbstardmp says:

    How good will Ozil be against top opponents? He was on the outer at his last club, so I guess only time will tell

    Sagna needs to be transferred

    Man U is now at the top of there group, and they will improve in the EPL too.

    I can’t see Arsenal on top of either soon

  11. jcloud says:

    I couldn’t understand why Arsenal started so hesitantly. They invited pressure that led to the Ramsey’s mistake and goal. Were they too respectful? Another thing that was driving me nuts was too many back passes. That changed since Cazorla came in, and passing overall became more fluent. I’m hoping for the proper response in Germany. I’m sure the Gunners will start that game with much more purpose (like they did in recent years in the second game against Milan and Bayern). The only thing the Gunners can’t wear their trademark yellow away uniform since Borussia is yellow.

  12. Finnish Hit says:

    Thanks, I was waiting for this one. It was an interesting, good game. I was honestly a bit surprised by Dortmund’s ruthlessness and efficiency with their chances.

  13. masinde says:

    clearly flamini is underated.his positioning and leadership on the pitch was sorely missed..ramsey and wilshere despite being potential stars,it was apparent that they have a long way to go..squad rotation is very necesary too

  14. santori says:

    Worth the wait for this one. Exhaustive in detail!

    Whilst I was happy to see both Ozil and Santi on the pitch .against Norwich, I felt we should have played one in either half taking turns and saving them a little for Tuesday (Particularly Ozil who was fairly busy with Internationals)

    Also surprised not to see Santi start. Whilst Rosicky was quality Santi’s dribbling and movement would bring something different to midfield.

    Also don’t think Jack is best played out RW. Rather prefer him next to Arteta where his natural combativeness should come to fore (never mind passing percentages), he is one of the few players who can slalom through midfield carrying the ball.

    That would have also freed Ramsey further forward to join Ozil and Santi in a flexible attacking line just behind Giroud.

    Did not think we got it quite right tactically and upon these minute detail rest the slender margin of success or failure.

    I’ve said it before that Wenger is no mug tactically but his genius in the market at times flatter him on the field.

    Hope we take hard lessons from this one. Quality team Dortmund. respect.

  15. Kushagra says:

    Believe the role of Arteta in the second goal is overlooked esp being a DM should have been covering the edge of the D but he is physically lacking relative to Flamini..

  16. Cupsui says:

    Well most everything has already been said. Great game that was up and down throughout and momentum changed a lot…

    One point on the final goal missed was Gibbsy should have gone wider earlier and cut off Groezkruetz’s run when santi had sprinted back into position to cover hoffman. This would have prevented the run and open cross. Gotta cover the wide man especially when you are already so central gibbsy!!

    my final though:

    CROSSING!! I’ve said it once and i’ll say it again i’m sure could we learn the cross the ball please!!

    seriously if Gibbs and Sagna could actually cross the ball Giroud would already have 10 goals. So many open crosses from those two go into bad areas…come on…work on it guys!

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