Borussia Dortmund 1 – 1 Arsenal – Resilient Dortmund earn a point but rude awakening for Klopp in Champions League bow

Dortmund relied on an 88th minute goal from substitute Ivan Perisic to earn a point against Arsenal in their first Champions League match since 2003.  65, 614 spectators filled the Signal Iduna Park to watch their team back in Europe’s premier competition after an eight-year absence.  The home side went down in the first half after Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie pounced on a giveaway from Dortmund captain Kehl but outplayed the club from London for most of the match.  As has become typical of Dortmund, they dominated their opponents and created a host of chances but failed to capitalize on a majority of them and conceded against the run of play.

The rest of the match was spent chasing a result, which Dortmund managed in the end, but the game was indicative of the unforgiving nature of the competition and the team’s remaining shortcomings.  Klopp made one change, replacing Gündogan for the more defensive minded Sebastian Kehl, a conservative albeit predictable move in light of the potential capriciousness of the match.

Formations and key movement

  Good start for Dortmund but lack of end product

Dortmund were all over Arsenal in the opening minutes, playing their usual high tempo pressing game and putting pressure on their opponent’s backline.  Characteristic of Klopp’s side, Dortmund exerted and impressive amount of energy to put Arsenal on the back foot and managed to get behind their defense a couple of times.  One of those was a trademark long ball over the top by Hummels, beating Arsenal’s backline and finding Kagawa, the Japanese player scuffing his shot.  It was an all too familiar strategy from Dortmund, using the passing proficiency of Hummels as a de facto playmaker from deep, hoping to catch Arsenal’s high line off guard and it nearly worked had Kagawa kept his composure.

Arsenal also failed to deal with Götze’s inward runs initially.  The clever 19-year old always looked to cut inside from the right, letting Piszczek become the auxiliary right winger.. In such a case, Kagawa is used almost as a decoy, pulling markers away and giving Götze the space to operate and exploit the channels.  Gibbs failed to track those inward runs and on 12 minutes Götze cut in from the right and played the onrushing Lewandowski through but the Polish striker was denied by a goal line clearance by Sagna after rounding Szczesny.  Arsenal’s best chance came on 33 minutes after Benayoun picked up a lost ball in midfield and saw Van Persie open on the left, the Dutch striker controlling and driving a low shot towards Weidenfeller who reacted in time to push it wide.

Dortmund continued to rush forward with every opportunity, playing the direct and quick brand of football that was so effective in the league last season but lacked in two areas in particular. One was more obvious than the other, their lack of finishing.  The absence of Barrios is of course a big factor here and Lewandowski lacks the mobility and clinical finishing of the Paraguayan international.  Again and again Dortmund create chances galore only to waste them and be punished in return. The same happened again before the break against Arsenal.  Against the run of play, Arsenal took the lead.  Kehl had the ball in midfield and underhit a pass only to be intercepted by Van Persie.  The striker played a one-two with Walcott and was clear on goal to put his side up.  All of Dortmund’s good work had been undone by an individual error but it was yet another case of them dominating the match, creating the majority of the chances only to fall behind or remain without a goal.

Frenetic Dortmund 

Their second deficiency was more obvious in the second half, that being a lack of control in midfield and its various consequences.  Being a goal down Dortmund had to work even harder in the second half to at least do justice to their first half performance thus putting more pressure on themselves and making their play more erratic than calculated.  Kehl’s age showed, giving the ball away numerous times and failing to keep up with the tempo of the game. Dortmund’s strength last season laid in their ability to control the tempo of matches, thanks in part to Sahin’s performances in midfield.  Sahin pulled the strings, edited the flow of the game and provided a platform for Dortmund’s attacks.  The pressure was never on the likes of Kagawa or Götze to track back for example and thus could operate with more ease.

Against Arsenal, as well as in their poor showings in the league so far, Dortmund have very much suffered from that lack of control, always looking susceptible to the “elements of the game” and as a result their play can look scattered and chaotic.  Dortmund did not muster up much in the second half although they possessed the majority of the ball.  Klopp’s fitness training was impressive as the Dortmund players never seemed to run out of energy but running can only go so far when you lack a proper game plan. Hummels had to initiate most of Dortmund’ attacks in the second half and practically ended up playing in midfield to compensate for their lack of presence there. Their best chance before the equalizer came from a corner quick after Subotic failed to get the ball past Szczesny from a scramble in the box.

 Final Verdict

Dortmund were persistent though if anything and that paid off in the end as did Klopp’s substitution. Grosskreutz had a poor showing and was rightfully replaced by the more dangerous and capable Perisic but overall it was a very immature performance by a young and inexperienced Dortmund side.  Their energy is commendable as is their willingness to always attack but at the Champions League a higher degree of tactical acumen is required and if they want to proceed further in the competition they will meet teams who are better organized and more equipped to expose their deficiencies than this Arsenal side.

Man of the Match 

Mats Hummels – The Dortmund defender wore multiple hats against Arsenal.  He was Dortmund’s last line of defense, winning 71% of his tackles, intercepting attacks and relegating Walcott to the role of spectator for most of the match.  Also renowned for his attacking prowess Hummels stood out going forward, having the second most touches on the ball of any Dortmund players and always looking to receive the ball and initiate attacks.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

5 Comments

  1. Hummels is absolutely incredible. Top class. He is the perfect defender for Barcelona. Him and Pique together would be scary.

  2. For the first time in my life I’m against Arsenal. BvB showed what they capable of in European competition even though this is their first in eight years. Passion, speed, attempts and beautiful football- all of seen from them instead of the team who has making to the Champions League year in year out.

    I personally think their eager to pull the trigger cost them all points because too many chances goes bagging just easily.

    I never thought i can feel for the team plays against Arsenal, I support them for eight solid years, but the fact is German football is all I can think in the mean time. Hope they join the Europe elite teams in a few years.

  3. Fantastic recap Cris as always. Just wanted to add a few points to your keen observations.

    1) Personally I believe Dortmund really should have won this game. They pressed absolutely brilliantly, especially in the second half, and the least they deserved I felt was a point, and all three would not have been unfair. In such circumstances, I tend to treat the Perisic wonder-strike as not a fluke but an aptly deserved reward for their will to win the game.

    2) You have mentioned this but Hummels was an absolute beast. I wrote this on twitter but I want to say it again; rarely have I seen a defender so composed on the ball and so good at cutting out and anticipating attacks. Dortmund should lock him down for the future.

    3) Marcel Schmelzer was an attacking liability as was Kevin Grosskreutz. I have said this often, but in the Champions League the quality is so high that things become more and more about margins. Players like Schmelzer and Grosskreutz are above average players who make up for lack of finesse, technique and football IQ with a lot of physicality and all-around tenacity. These are important characteristics in a team but having both player on one side with similar characteristics mean that Dortmund were very often limited to attacking through the right or the middle. I can remember at least four or five situations where both Schmelzer and Grosskreutz ruined the play from promising positions. In the Champions League you have to be deadly, and hopefully that is something that both will learn.

    Overall, I thought this was a good re-entry for Dortmund into Champions League football. There were lessons to be learnt from this game and if I know Klopp he will try to drill that into his team. Given all of that, I think if Dortmund play with as much conviction in their remaining games, they will get out of this group. They do have to try to avoid defeat at London though.

  4. now it looks like Marseille can be very dangerous for Dortmund. OM have very quick wingers in Valbuena and Remy and a strong, physical central midfield with Cheyrou, Gonzalez and Diarra…

    3 teams (arsenal, bvb and OM) are all OUT OF FORM and this could make this an open group where each mistake will be punished. Getting maximum points against OLYMPIAKOS is now required.

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