Arsenal 2 – 1 Borussia Dormtund – Inability to replace Bender and Götze costs Dortmund

Dortmund’s chances of progressing to the knockout stages were dealt another hammer blow after suffering a 2-1 defeat against a more clinical Arsenal. Two strikes from the in form Van Persie decided the match with a stoppage time goal by Kagawa only a bitter consolation. It was a disappointing result fitting of a disappointing Champions League campaign from Klopp’s men, failing again to create and finish enough clear-cut chances and now needing a mathematical miracle to progress. A further damper was put on the result after Götze and Bender had to be taken off due to injuries in the first half.

With Dortmund on a 9 match unbeaten run and fresh off the win against Bayern Munich over the weekend Klopp felt confident in his line up and kept it the same. Equally as in form after going 8 matches without a loss, Arsenal boss Wenger maintained the same eleven that beat Norwich over the weekend.

Good start for Dortmund

Arsenal have only lost once to a German opponent at home, that was back in 1996 to an Effenberg inspired Borussia Mönchengladbach, so history was very much on their side. Dortmund last beat Arsenal back in 2002. Back then Rosicky still donned black and yellow and scored both goals but their away record to English clubs overall is not as inspiring, having won just twice and lost three. Despite that precedent, Dortmund started the match on a positive note.

Dortmund did well in the opening stages of the match and did but lacked a certain incisiveness to make whatever momentum they had count. Klopp approached the game similar to the weekend fixture in Munich, a bit more defensive and cautious in attack while trying to squeeze Arsenal in midfield through intense pressing. If Dortmund could disrupt Arsenal’s passing game and limit their link up they could theoretically put themselves in a better position to win. Hummels would often step out of the backline to pinch Arsenal in the center while Kehl and Bender were working overtime to block the channels Arsenal so famously utilize.

As such, they did well to interrupt Arsenal’s game but never quite got it together when moving the ball forward. Needing a win to help their chances of progressing, Dortmund were frantic in attack and rushed their plays, often leading to their breakdown and Arsenal recovering the ball. There was a sense of energetic desperation about Dortmund that never quite put them in the same comfort zone they enjoyed against Munich on Saturday. Arsenal still dominated possession in the first half, albeit mostly in their own half, precisely because Dortmund rushed forward with every chance rather than focusing on retention. What’s more, a bit of misfortune would make things even harder for Dortmund.

Turning point makes it a scrappy and congested affair

Dortmund’s chances took another heavy blow when they lost their two most influential players to injury. Both Bender and Götze had to be taken off midway through the first half, replaced by Leitner and Perisic. Almost immediately, Arsenal became more comfortable in and increased their possession, having 61% of the ball by the end of the first half. Dortmund players now had to compensate for Bender’s enormous pressing and running and while Leitner is a talented player he is no replacement for Bender’s tremendous energy and output.

No doubt a byproduct of Dortmund’s pressing, the center of the pitch was highly congested so a large chunk of the play from both sides was concentrated out wide, Schmelzer and Piszczek attempted the most passes while Koscielny had Arsenal’s highest number of passes. That also forced both sets of players to take speculative shots rather than benefit from carefully crafted link up. Lewandowski, Kehl and Schmelzer all had chances from long range but none bothered Arsenal. Also notable was how disjointed Dortmund’s passing was after Bender and Götze came off. Their replacements, Leitner and Perisic, completed a measly 65% and 41% of their passes.

Completed passes, Dortmund suffered in this area.

Arsenal clinical when need be

Arsenal handled Dortmund much like Dortmund handled Bayern over the weekend in the second half. Like Bayern on Saturday, Dortmund were the more aggressive and eager side, desperately needing a result of course, while Arsenal kept a better level of composure and picked their chances as Dortmund slowly unraveled amidst their frenzy. With Dortmund’s passing going more astray as time dwindled Arsenal started taking more control and the absence of Bender and Götze really started rearing its ugly head. Arsenal were winning more challenges in the middle and out-muscling Dortmund.

The drop off in Dortmund’s combativeness was best exemplified by Arsenal’s first goal when Song beat three Dortmund players to get a cross in the box, something that probably would not have happened with the strong presence of Bender who is usually assigned to cover the right flank. The pressure to come from behind without their two most influential players was too much for Dortmund after that and they never managed to impose themselves again. Grosskreutz carelessly gave the ball away around the hour mark and Walcott nearly doubled the lead had his shot been placed on target. Arsenal got the second four minutes from time though and put the result beyond doubt with Kagawa’s late goal inconsequential.

The home side had 60% possession by the end of the match, a stat usually held by Dortmund. The difference was Arsenal’s efficiency in front of goal. Arsenal only had 3 shots on goal throughout the match, all by Van Persie, but made two of them count. In fact, it was the fewest shots on goal Arsenal have had at home since the 2003/04 season but their experience shone through. Dortmund on the other hand created 9 chances without being much of a threat, something that has haunted them throughout the campaign. In the first half Dortmund attempted 239 passes and only 181 in the second half, completing only 64% compared to Arsenal’s 74%, a heavy indictment of Dortmund’s inability to properly replace Bender and Götze.

Arsenal's midfield trio of Song, Ramsey & Arteta outtackled Kagawa, Leitner and Kehl 42 to 23

Final Verdict

This week has been a contrast of emotions for Dortmund. Their euphoric win against Bayern was followed by a disastrous result in Europe. Following last year’s elimination from the Europa League in the group stage and all but certain elimination from European competition altogether this season, the team’s ability to compete on dual fronts has to be put into question. Dortmund conceded 9 goals in five Champions League matches so far, as much as they have conceded in all 13 matches in the league.

Dortmund now need a large margin victory against Marseille and hope that an already qualified Arsenal wins in Greece, odds that even the staunchest of gambling addicts would not touch. More worrying going forward though are the injuries to Sven Bender, who broke his jaw in two places and required immediate surgery, and Götze. Bender has arguably been Dortmund’s most important player this season and the drop off without him was notable against Arsenal while Götze is Dortmund’s creative spark and primary playmaker.

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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


  1. Yea its not very often that that happens. Even some of the English fans I talked too were amazed by it. Speaks volumes about their supporters.

  2. While their performance on the pitch might not be making the strongest advertisement for a German football renaissance, their fans sure were. Their corner of 7,000 drowned out the rest of the crowd nearly all game, and if I’m not mistaken the Emirates holds 50-60,000+!

  3. They might be fine in the Bundesliga but as far as Europe goes, they need a player like Bender badly.

    To me Bender has been the player to hold it all together in the middle so I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a drop off in performance for the remainder of the year. They better hope that knee injury isn’t anything serious too because he has been quite injury prone in that area.

    I think Bender is one player that absolutely cannot be replaced for Dortmund.

  4. I don’t think BVB has anyone that can do what Bender does. They’re really going to miss him over the next couple months. Now they’re going to struggle in both defensive midfield positions. The player I really hate to see out there is Kehl– he seems so prone to mistakes at key moments. He was one of the players double teaming Song when he managed to skip through and cross to Van Persie for the second goal. And it was Kehl’s cheap give-away that led to Van Persie scoring in the first game also.

  5. Hmm not sure how much difference Gündogan would have made. I think it was always going to be difficult after Götze and Bender came off and nothing or no one was really going to change that.

  6. I personally think Klopp made a huge mistake in bringing Leitner, instead of Gundogan, in place of Bender. The ex-1860 midfielder is surely one of the prospects for the future, but giving him his champions league debut in such atmosphere is too costly. He is successively losing the ball under no pressure and when it comes to 50-50 balls he is always beaten by the industrious Alex Song. One thing I’m very impressed at the night is Felippe Santana’s aerial superiority [ironically enough both of the goals are comes from crosses]. Santana’s qualities along with the ever-present, Hummels’, denied Arsenal chances in several occasions.
    It is very disappointing to see BvB’s traveling fans didn’t get what they hope for, but hope it gives them full attention to catch Bayern in the League.

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