FC Arsenal 1 – 2 Borussia Dortmund: BVB Pickpockets the Gunners

In a match that, at best, looked like it could be heading for a 1-1 draw, Borussia Dortmund found a Lewandowski goal on a stunning counter to win 2-1 in north London at Arsenal’s home ground in Champions League play on Tuesday. For BVB, a massive win and, for Arsenal, a disappointing and unexpected loss.

Entering the contest, Arsenal led Group F with wins from its first two matches, while Dortmund sat in the group’s middle, thanks to its loss (against Napoli) and win (against Olympique Marseilles). Moreover, Arsenal also entered the match as the Premier’s hottest club, sitting atop the table on 19 points – unbeaten for seven matches now in domestic play. While many predicted a goal-fest – thanks to the attacking firepower on both rosters – these same folks also forgot that both clubs are also very good defensively, in terms of shots and goals conceded.

After today’s result, Group F – the “group of death” – has been blown wide open.

Goals: Mkhitaryan (BVB) 16′, Giroud (Arsenal) 41′, Lewandowski (82′).

Substitutions:

  • Arsenal: Cazorla for Wilshere (58′), Bendtner for Ramsey (86′), Gnabry for Rosicky (89′).
  • BVB: Hofmann for Mkhitaryan (67′), Aubameyang for Blaszczykowski (67′), Sokratis for Reus (87′).

Cards:

  • BVB: Hummels (yellow), Lewandowski (yellow), Bender (yellow),
  • Arsenal: Rosicky (yellow), Özil (yellow).

Possession: Arsenal (55%) vs. BVB (45%).

Shots on Goal: Arsenal (9; 2 on target) vs. BVB (8; 3 on target).

Lineups:

The starting lineups. (Courtesy of WhoScored.com)
The starting lineups. (Courtesy of WhoScored.com)

For BVB, Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer returned from injuries, bolstering a mostly top shelf Dortmund line-up despite the lingering injuries to Gündogan and Pisczcek. Arsenal started its usual XI, as Santi Carzorla continues to slowly return to form from injury.

First Half

Arsenal played 7-8 players back in defense for the first part of this half, giving BVB about 2/3 of pitch as a space-canvas for building attacks. BVB used this space through the flank play of Schmelzer and Großkreutz in particular. For awhile, BVB was in “lock-picking” mode as it looked for alleys through the Arsenal defense in front of goal. Arsenal worked to shut down these passing alleys, but always looked stressed preventing the Dortmund attack. Meanwhile, BVB enjoyed about 54% possession, giving Die Schwarzgelben time to build up attacks. Offensively, Arsenal’s wasn’t able to do much with the ball, as Dortmund pressed each ball-handler, forcing hasty passes from the Gunners.

Eventually, BVB was awarded for its lock-picking, as it capitalized on Aaron Ramsey mishandling a clearance opportunity in his own box. Lewandowski recovered the ball then jabbed a quick pass to Mkhitaryan, who put in a shot around the keeper Szczesny – certainly not the prettiest BVB goal this season. 1-0, Dortmund.

Arsenal seemed to wake up and picked up the attacking pace, especially through its right flank with the overlapping play of Sagna, Wilshere, and Ramsey. A couple times, BVB was caught over-pressing the ball (it seemed), allowing Arsenal too much space along the latter’s right side on counter attacks. Meanwhile, BVB’s attacking play looked more fallow, even though Großkreutz was given generous avenues of space on BVB’s right flank for attacking forays; however, no BVBers were open enough to create dangerous opportunities.

As Arsenal enjoyed around 58% for the remainder of the half, the London club began its own lock-picking operations. At 38′, the Gunners pinged passes/shots around the box, but Hummels recovered his position just in time to clear a Rosicky shot off the goal line. It made no difference, as Arsenal found the equalizer only three minutes later when, from the run of play, Sagna received the ball along the right flank and got off a deadly cross, which arrived at the intersection of Giroud, Subotic, and Weidenfeller. Subotic was the unintentional goat, as his foot poked the ball away from Weidenfeller – oops – while Giroud collected it for the clean-up goal. 1-1, Arsenal.

Reus and Großkreutz  wasted long-distance efforts as the first half ended. At halftime, suspended Jürgen Klopp was seen enjoying a prawn sandwich, tea cup in hand. Perhaps suspension isn’t too bad after all.

Second Half

Simply put, Arsenal was the only dangerous team this half – both in terms of possession and chances created. For some stretches, the Gunners enjoyed up to 79% of possession. Although no shots were attempted until 69′ by either side, Arsenal was in charge, building attacks, prying, poking, and running up the pitch, as Dortmund seemed content to hold down the 1-1 draw.

Brief drama occurred at 64′ when Lewandowski – unintentionally, from what it appears – elbowed Koscielny in the face, as the former went up to head the ball. Lewandowski was shown a yellow card, perhaps luckily, since another official on another day might show the striker red for the elbow (intentional or not). At 69′ BVB was almost punished as Santi Cazorla hit the woodwork from a right-footed shot outside the box. Unlucky for the Gunners.

After three more shots on goal for Arsenal, it happened. At 82′, in seemingly routine fashion, Dortmund recovered possession on a counter. Suddenly, Arsenal seemed too slow. In almost a mirror of Sagna’s assist, Großkreutz received a pass with open space along his right flank. Big Kev crossed the ball into Lewandowski, who cleanly stroked home a right-footed shot from the center of box. Stunningly, it was 2-1 to Dortmund, certainly against the run of play.

BVB ran out the remaining time. Arsenal didn’t really threaten to score again – the closest it came was a shot by Arteta easily blocked by Weidenfeller in extra time. The Gunners misplaced passes, while BVB won corners and kept the ball away from Arsenal’s attackers. As rain fell, time expired and BVB celebrated on the wet pitch.

Commentary

Suddenly, BVB, Arsenal, and Napoli all sit tied on 6 points atop Group F. With three matches remaining, Dortmund has two home matches (against Napoli and Arsenal), aligning the stars in BVB’s favor as group play winds down in UCL play. Admittedly, Dortmund was lucky to win this match, given Arsenal’s domination of the 2nd half and the former’s lack of any real attacking chances during the same half. After all, for Dortmund it was the kind of match in which the club’s top passing combinations were Großkreutz to Subotic and Hummels to Subotic.

Amazingly, Dortmund was held to 8 shots (3 on target), which is remarkable considering that Dortmund currently lead Europe in shots per match (23.2), although Arsenal (averaging 15.1 shots per match) faired no matter, as the Gunners, too, only got off 8 shots (2 on target). Here are the first half shots:

Shots on goal taken during the first half. (Courtesy of FourFourTwo.com)
Shots on goal taken during the first half. (Courtesy of FourFourTwo.com)

The graph above shows shots taken only in the first half, which outside the Lewandowski goal, is the half that saw the shooting action for BVB. Notice Dortmund’s (red) off target shots. Ugly misses. BVB would only get two more shots for the entire match. Really, it’s the lack of shots that should disappoint Arsenal supporters. With shot tallies this low for both sides, it’s not surprising that the match was decided by a single (and sudden) counter-attack. Arsenal didn’t give itself enough chances to carve out the win. Meanwhile, Dortmund capitalized on the match’s razor-thin balance with the Lewandowski goal.

Lucky? Sure, but luck is needed to get through the random stuff that happens on the small sample size play that is the Champions League.

However, Dortmund should be praised for shutting down Özil, who was mostly invisible and whose passing was mostly inconsequential, as Arsenal was forced to channel its attack elsewhere. On the other side of the ball, despite the lack of shots on goal, the interplay between Reus, Lewandowski, and even Mkhitaryan still looks like one of Europe’s more menacing attacks. Reus was particularly impressive for his ability to roam diagonally across the pitch, often switching sides, even if his shooting was wasteful in this match.

Reus' action areas during the match. Notice the width he covered between both right and left flanks for Dortmund. (Courtesy of Squawka.com)
Reus’ action areas during the match. Notice the width he covered between both right and left flanks for Dortmund. (Courtesy of Squawka.com)

Nonetheless, BVB is clearly hampered in attack – especially in European play – without more effective play in the defensive midfield. The Sahin/Bender DMF pivots in BVB’s 4-2-3-1 were underwhelming against Arsenal, to say the least. Mostly passing and build up flowed around these two players instead of through them. Not a good omen. Gündogan is sorely missed, as he recovers from his back injury. As dangerous as Reus and Lewandowski sometimes look, without Gündogan, Dortmund’s interlacing attacking play lacks the more manifest danger that quality buildup play generates. Without Gündogan’s presence, BVB shrewdly played the pickpocket role – a role it pulled off nicely at the Emirates – suddenly transforming Group F’s narrative.

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Travis serves as an editor and regular columnist here. Born and groomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Travis is a college English instructor in Pittsburgh. Coffee, books, and sports are his passions. His writing has also appeared in Howler magazine, 11Freunde, America Magazine, The Short Pass, Bloomberg Sports, the Good Man Project, his former blog, Sportisourstory.tumblr.com, and elsewhere. He tweets at @tptimmons. Heja BVB!

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