Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal: Dortmund on top for an hour, but Arsenal excellent after scoring

November 7, 2013

The starting line-ups

Dortmund had significantly more shots, but Arsenal snatched a winner and saw out the game efficiently.

Jurgen Klopp was without Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan, so named an unchanged side.

Arsene Wenger didn’t have anyone back from injury, so kept the same side that defeated Liverpool.

This game was simultaneously high-tempo and slow-burning – an uneventful first half was followed by a very exciting second.

Possession versus pressing

The first half was characterised by completely different approaches from the two sides. Pre-match, Klopp had spoken at great length about the differences between the teams, essentially saying that he didn’t subscribe to Arsenal’s belief that patient possession play was the optimum approach, instead preferring something more direct and energetic.

The two approaches played out during the first half, with Dortmund pressing energetically high up the pitch in the opening 10-15 minutes, before dropping back slightly and concentrating on pressing when Arsenal played the ball into the midfield zone.

Arsenal actually retained the ball efficiently when passing between the defence and midfield, but struggled to work it forward into the final third. Indeed, despite dominating possession in the first half – almost 60% – they didn’t manage a single attempt on target.

The question of dominance is interesting in this situation – Arsenal had more of the ball, yet territorially Dortmund had the upper hand.

Dortmund right

The first match was all about the attacking full-backs on either side, and was eventually decided by Dortmund right-back Kevin Grosskreutz’s cross, after his umpteenth surge forward into the final third. Here, Dortmund again focused upon attacking down that flank, and appeared to target Kieran Gibbs in the first half.

Realistically, there was only one major chance in the first period – it fell to Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who pulled his shot wide of the far post. The chance originated because Arsenal’s two left-sided defenders were both beaten high up the pitch, with Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski both charging into the space.

This has been something of a feature of Arsenal’s play over the past two years – Koscielny and Gibbs (and Thomas Vermaelen and Andre Santos before them) have both been much more impetuous than Per Mertesacker and Bacary Sanga on the other flank. It also showed the danger of Koscielny being turned when sticking tight – he shut out Luis Suarez effectively at the weekend, but was nearly made to pay for his advanced positioning here.

Dortmund continued to threaten down that flank, particularly when Grosskreutz overlapped. This was particularly obvious at the start of the second period, as he played a dangerous cut-back into the centre, and then a good cross to Marco Reus, within the first five minutes.

Mkhitaryan space

Another feature was the amount of space Mkhitaryan found between the lines. Mikel Arteta was the man supposed to be stopping him, but Arsenal’s captain received an early yellow card and had to be careful not to dive into tackles.

Meanwhile, if there’s one thing Aaron Ramsey needs to improve upon (and in his current form, it really is only one thing) it’s his defensive positioning. Arteta was sometimes left isolated in front of the back four, and Mkhitaryan was clever at varying his position, finding pockets of space.

Arsenal attacks

Arsenal scored with their first attempt of the entire game, and the fact Ramsey’s goal came after 62 minutes underlines how much they struggled to work the ball into goalscoring positions for the opening hour.

But Arsenal had five decent chances in the final half hour, and four came from putting crosses into the box. Ramsey’s goal came after an Ozil cross won excellently by Olivier Giroud, who later had a scrappy effort from a corner. Mertesacker, meanwhile, was inches away from connecting with a Santi Cazorla cross, and also flicked a header onto the top of the net from a free-kick. The only other chance was when Giroud and Ramsey combined on the break. Arsenal’s main threat was from crossing and set-pieces, and didn’t play a single through-ball all evening.


Having gone 1-0 up, Arsenal played their most positive football of the match – retaining the ball in the opposition third. Although this risked allowing Dortmund to break into space, the home side’s only meaningful counter-attack came following a set-piece.

There was a good chance for Reus, however – again, this came from a right-wing cross, Arsenal’s problem throughout the game.


This match rather exposed Dortmund’s lack of a Plan B, as Klopp’s three substitutions were all straight swaps – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Blaszczykowski, Jonas Hoffman for Sven Bender and Julian Schieber for Reus. Dortmund played in almost entirely the same manner, although their passing became more direct with Lewandowski challenging for more aerial balls.

In stark contrast, Arsenal were able to become much more defensive by introducing two defenders for midfielders. First Nacho Monreal and later Thomas Vermaelen replaced Cazorla and Rosicky – both have frequently been used as late, defensive subs this season. This worked well, particularly in Monreal’s case – because Arsenal had been having such problems down their left. Monreal was introduced seconds after Aubameyang, and proved so effective that the winger switched flanks when Shieber came on, desperately hoping for space.

It was interesting to see Wenger giving Monreal very detailed, precise instructions on the touchline before he entered – that’s a relatively rare sight for the Arsenal manager.

Arsenal parked the bus effectively, and saw out the victory without Wojciech Szczesny being forced into any major saves.


Dortmund had the upper hand for the opening hour, with their midfield pressing preventing Arsenal from crossing the halfway line. With the ball, they dominated primarily down the right, as in the first leg, with Grosskreutz given space to get forward from right-back.

This was a classic example of the ‘goals change games’ cliche – at 0-1, the game took an entirely different pattern. But it was Arsenal who played better football having gone ahead, holding the ball higher up the pitch and creating further chances from set-pieces. They parked the bus for the final 10 minutes, showing they can defend both proactively and reactively.

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