Arsenal played Dortmund away on Matchday 1 of this season’s Champions League, looking to pick up a point or three, after drawing three successive games in the Premier League. The Gunners, however, struggled to live up to the high pressing and high tempo game plan from their German opponents and, had it not been for some profligacy in front of goal from Klopp’s frontline and midfielders, Arsenal were looking at a much bigger margin of defeat. In hindsight, what could have Wenger’s wizards done differently?
Play overhead, long passes and stretch the pitch
Dortmund’s game plan was very palpable from the off: deprive Arsenal from getting into a passing rhythm by not allowing time and space, and press Arteta and the Gunners’ backline.
It was a bright start, indeed, from the home side, but it was not to suggest that Arsenal weren’t menacing on the break in the early tussles of the match. I thought Dortmund’s pressing would play it into North Londoners’ hands, as they could have exploited the space behind the pressing personnel of Dortmund.
Welbeck had 2 clear chances in the first half, to put Arsenal ahead and, thereby, peg Dortmund back. Once Arsenal started to miss chance after chance, the confidence started diminishing, and Dortmund could take control of the game.
Coming to stretching the pitch, however: The North Londoners were adamant in wanting to play ‘their’ brand of football, irrespective of the scenario and the tactics of opponents. The Germans were pressing them incessantly, and the North London side still failed to make a switch to their system and neither did they react appropriately. The likes of Wilshere and Ramsey were looking to play short, exquisite one touch passing moves, and inebriate their German counterparts, which was never going to happen. All Arsenal needed to do was stretch the pitch, play overhead or long passes and make sure that Dortmund’s pressing became nullified. If they were going to play it long, side-to-side, Dortmund couldn’t have pressed them all night long. But, for that to have happened, Sanchez and Ozil must have maintained width, instead of cutting in. Arsenal’s passing, unlike their usual self, let them down badly.
Wear your opponents out
The dogmatic end-product from the pressing game is that the pressing side always becomes tired and worn out after a certain amount of pressing. And, after the early exploits in the second period, Dortmund resorted to pressing Arsenal – albeit not completely – and were happy to maintain the two-goal lead. Had Arsenal not conceded those two goals on either side of Half-Time, they could have wrestled control of the game once Dortmund became tired, which they were always going to. These kinds of game are much common in Europe: the better side in the game takes the lead, goes further in front and, once the batteries run out of charge, the inferior side always looks like coming back into it.
Arsenal lacked composure, and were culpable for their failure to read Dortmund’s game plan and the subsequent adjustments they needed to make to their own tactics. Profligacy in front of goal didn’t help their cause either and, at the end of it all, it was another European game which played out in a set pattern.
Arsenal need to bounce back, but you start to wonder whether the ineptitude to manufacture results will play on their psyche.