Breaking Down Arsenal's Tactics Against Borussia Dortmund
A meeting between Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger was always going to be an intriguing tactical battle. Klopp and Wenger both think deeply about the game, combining an agile tactical mind with a deep-rooted football philosophy.
The two managers have a certain style in common. Both favour attractive football with quick passing along the ground. Thus far this season, both teams have flourished on the counter-attack.
For Arsenal, that presented something of a problem. As the home team, they felt obliged to take the game to Dortmund. However, in the first half, the Germans simply wouldn’t allow it.
Their pressing game was outstanding. According to the official UEFA stat pack distributed at the end of the game, Dortmund covered 117,887 metres during the game as compared with Arsenal’s 106,281 metres. Physically, Klopp’s team are the most impressive side Arsenal have faced this season by a distance.
Dortmund defend from the front. Even esteemed striker Robert Lewandowski buys into the pressing. The following chart demonstrates how effective their high-intensity game can be.
This chart illustrates all the defensive actions taken by each team during the game: fouls, clearances, interceptions, blocks, recoveries and even fouls conceded. Note how Arsenal’s are primarily concentrated in their own half, while Dortmund’s extend right up the pitch. Not even Arsenal’s centre-backs were afforded a moment’s peace on the ball.
Inevitably, this high octane-approach from Dortmund damaged Arsenal’s usually pristine passing game.
The greatest victim was Jack Wilshere. Stationed in an unfamiliar role on the right-flank, the English midfielder frequently found himself dribbling down blind alleys and unable to pick out a teammate when the opportunity to pass presented itself.
According to the Arsenal.com stats centre, Wilshere completed just 65 percent of the passes he attempted during the game. For a player of his technical level, that is a shockingly poor ratio.
No player suffered so much under Dortmund’s pressing game. Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil all managed to complete more than 80 percent of their passes.
Given those figures, it’s no surprise that Wilshere’s withdrawal in the second half prompted Arsenal’s revival.
His replacement, Santi Cazorla, used the ball with far greater efficiency. In his 30 minutes on the pitch, Cazorla actually attempted nine more passes than Wilshere managed in an hour, completing an impressive 86.2 percent.
Wilshere made life difficult for himself in the first half by constantly drifting infield. As a right-footed player deployed on the left, he is inevitably drawn to cutting inside.
However, in this match, coming inside meant entering a minefield.
Both sides lined up without natural wingers. For Dortmund, both Marco Reus and Jakub Błaszczykowski enjoy cutting in from their respective flank on to their stronger inside foot.
Arsenal are suffering something of an injury crisis on the wings, with Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski all out of action. That has forced Arsene Wenger to deploy the likes of Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere on the wings when both are inevitably drawn to the centre.
In this match with Dortmund, that abundance of No. 10s disguised as wingers led to a congested centre of the park.
The space, by contrast, was on the flanks.
It’s therefore no surprise that this match was dominated by attacking full-backs. Bacary Sagna and Kevin Grosskreutz in particular came to the fore, with both players grabbing assists.
However, had Sagna’s crossing been better, Arsenal might have created more opportunities to win the game. Aside from the one curled pass the created Olivier Giroud’s equaliser, he also put in a series of unsuccessful crosses. One could even argue that were it not for the floundering of Roman Weidenfeller, his cross for the goal would never have reached Giroud either.
Across the 90 minutes, Arsenal managed just two shots on target. One can’t help but wonder if, had they had a more effective wide player such as Theo Walcott able to exploit the space on the flanks, they might have fashioned more opportunities to score and given themselves a better chance of winning the game.
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