Aaron Ramsey’s second half goal put Arsenal in a great position to progress to the Champions League knockout round for the 14th consecutive year.
Arsene Wenger made no changes to the side that defeated Liverpool over the weekend.
Sokratis formed a centre back duo with Neven Subotic, while Jakub Blaszczykowski was preferred over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the right of an attacking three, alongside Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Arsenal produced a mature, yet gritty performance, as they overcame a dominant opening hour from the Champions League finalists to earn a monumental victory at the Westfalenstadion.
One of the main feats in the match at the Emirates was the battle in midfield, and it was interesting to see how both sides approached the match. Once again there was a contrast in styles – Arsenal were aiming to sustain possession, while Dortmund were keen on hitting the Gunners on the break.
Initially, Arsenal dropped into two banks of four with wide men – Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla – sitting in deeper positions to prevent Dortmund’s fullbacks from pushing forward. Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil pressed Sokratis and Neven Subotic, and when Nuri Sahin or Sven Bender dropped deeper, Rosicky closed them down. Dortmund was unable to build from the back, which hampered their control of possession.
Dortmund also dropped into two banks of four without the ball, but they maintained a high line and displayed terrific work rate throughout the pitch. Lewandowski and Mkhitaryan tracked the Arsenal centrebacks, and the Armenian midfielder also closed down Mikel Arteta when he received the ball. A key feat in the fixture at the Emirates was the amount of space all four fullbacks received down the flank.
Klopp was adamant on nullifying that offensive source, seeing as Bacary Sagna has played a significant role in Arsenal’s attack over the past few weeks.
Blaszczykowski and Reus pressed Kieran Gibbs and Sagna when they had the ball, and the likes of Sahin and Bender assisted the Dortmund wingers, as they tried to win possession higher up the pitch.
Arsenal struggled to cope with Dortmund’s pressure, and they failed to create a solitary legitimate goal-scoring opportunity in the first half. Most of their build-up play was halted before they entered the final third, as Wenger’s men conceded possession easily, due to Dortmund’s pressure. Arsenal’s attacking three dropped deeper alongside Arteta to help the Gunners sustain possession, and push forward as a unit, but Dortmund was exceptional without the ball.
Grosskreutz/Dortmund right side
Kevin Grosskreutz was a key-attacking element in Dortmund’s victory at the Emirates Stadium, and the German utility player continued to penetrate down the left flank. Gibbs’ positioning improved slightly, as he was rarely caught out in narrow positions – and he had Cazorla protecting him.
However, as the match wore on, Grosskreutz’s impact on the match increased, as his runs from right back weren’t being tracked. In the 24th minute, Reus played a ball to Grosskreutz between Cazorla and Gibbs, and the Dortmund right-back’s cross found Blaszczykowski, but the Polish midfielder’s shot flashed wide of the goal. Towards the end of the half, Grosskreutz broke free once again, but his cross went straight into Wojciech Szczesny’s hands. The German right back continued to torment Arsenal’s backline in the second half, as he broke free half towards the touchline, but Arteta intercepted his cutback pass.
But while Grosskreutz’s impact was significant, Dortmund’s aim was to isolate Gibbs. Dortmund’s best chance of the half stemmed from Robert Lewandowski turning Laurent Koscielny and playing a forward pass to Blaszczykowski. The Polish midfielder squared his pass to an open Mkhitaryan on the edge of the box, but the Armenian midfielder fluffed his shot wide. Blaszczykowski also played in a quality cross into the box – after beating Gibbs on the right flank – but Per Mertesacker acrobatically cleared his lines. In the second half, Bender was free on the right flank, and his delivery found Reus on the edge of the box, but Szczesny saved the German international’s header.
Unlike Klopp, who nullified Arsenal’s threat from wide areas, Wenger’s tactical naivety was once again displayed, and poor finishing prevented his side from being a few goals down.
The signing of Mathieu Flamini in the summer left many questioning Wenger’s transfer policy, but as shocking as it may sound, the French midfielder has become a key cog in Arsenal’s midfielder. His ability to make tackles, protect the back four, and do the dirty work for the Gunners is often overlooked. Equally, Flamini’s absence from the starting eleven has allowed many to see how important the Frenchman is.
The problem with the Ramsey-Arteta duo is the Welshman’s willingness to surge forward, which often leaves Arteta vulnerable to being overrun in midfield. The Spaniard is then forced to make cynical tackles, and his overall impact decreases, mainly because Arteta isn’t a natural defensive midfielder. At Crystal Palace he was wrongfully sent off for fouling Marouane Chamakh, after the Palace striker got behind the Spaniard. In the early moments against Liverpool, Sturridge and Suarez constantly got behind Arteta, posing a threat on the break. More so, this recurring theme continued against Dortmund, and the Spaniard was fortunate to stay on the pitch for the entirety of the match.
In the 22nd minute, Arteta was booked for pulling down Blaszczykowski, after the Polish midfielder wriggled away from four Arsenal players and was nearly clear on goal. Eight minutes later, Reus slyly drifted past Arteta and ran at the heart of the Arsenal defence, but Mertesacker read his final ball. In the second half, Lewandowski did well to hold up the ball and play in an advancing Mkhitaryan who ran behind Arteta and played a pass to Blaszczykowski, but Szczesny saved his shot.
Mkhitaryan’s movement was clever and he found pockets of space behind Arteta to receive the ball and exploit on the counter. Arsenal may thrive with Arteta and Ramsey against lesser opposition in the Premier League, but the midfield combination has become a distinct weakness that opponents have targeted over the past few weeks, as Ramsey needs to provide better defensive cover for the Spaniard.
However, despite the deficiencies that come with the Ramsey-Arteta partnership, Ramsey’s attacking contributions proved to be beneficial. Sokratis failed to clear his lines after Rosicky conceded possession, and the Arsenal midfielder played the ball out wide to Ozil. Giroud outmuscled Grosskreutz to win Ozil’s looping cross and Ramsey got goal-side of Neven Subotic and nodded the ball past Roman Weidenfeller.
It was Arsenal’s first shot on target, and the first time Ramsey got into an advanced position in the final third. The Welsh midfielder has relished in central areas as he’s given more freedom to push forward, and minutes after the opener he nearly put the match out of sight. Giroud and Ramsey combined at the halfway line and pushed higher up the pitch. Giroud played a ball into Ramsey, who peeled away from Marcel Schmelzer. Ramsey’s first touch off his chest was immaculate, but Weidenfeller saved his venomous shot from a tight angle.
Prior to the goal, Arsenal were desperately hanging on by a thread, but the Gunners gambled and pushed higher up the pitch – knowing that Dortmund could blitz them on the counter – and Ramsey’s forward runs and composure in front of goal paid off.
The second half opened up once Arsenal took the lead, this time in favour of the Gunners. In fairness they had the better chances for the remainder of the match.
Off the corner kick from Weidenfeller’s save on Ramsey, Giroud nearly directed Cazorla’s corner into the net, but a combined effort from Sahin and Weidenfeller kept the ball out. Dortmund were unable to clear their lines and the ball circulated back to Cazorla’s flank, and he delivered another fabulous cross that Mertesacker nearly connected with. Mertesacker would receive another chance to double Arsenal’s lead a few minutes later, but he guided Cazorla’s free-kick a few inches over the goal.
Dortmund looked to the bench to shift the match in their favour by introducing Aubameyang, Julian Schieber and Jonas Hoffman, yet Dortmund’s overall approach didn’t change. Aubameyang was deprived space to take on Arsenal defenders, and as Wenger’s men sat deeper, Dortmund resorted to direct balls into Lewandowski. Wenger reacted to Klopp’s changes by sacrificing Cazorla and Rosicky for Vermaelen and Monreal. Monreal was brought on to nullify Dortmund’s threat on the right side – which forced Aubameyang to the left – and Vermaelen was another body at the back to win aerial duels.
Nevertheless, despite the Gunners finishing the match with six astute defenders, the way they utilized possession in the second half was marvelous. Wenger’s men slowed down the tempo of the match by focusing on ball retention, and with the onus on Dortmund to chase the match and their pressing-game depleted, there was more space for Arsenal to play into.
Klopp’s men were the superior side for large portions of the match – they combined midfield pressing, quick transitions, and attacks down the right flank to trouble the Gunners, but they were unable to create many clear-cut scoring opportunities or test Szczesny.
“I told the team afterwards what everyone who watched the match saw for themselves: we didn’t reward ourselves for the work we put into this game. Losing was unnecessary, but we haven’t lost our hopes yet and everything is still possible as long as we win our two remaining games,” Klopp said.
This is a monumental, yet fortuitous, victory for the Gunners ahead of their Premier League showdown against Manchester United at Old Trafford. They weathered the Dortmund storm for the first hour and executed on their first opportunity handed to them.
“I was pleased with our focus tonight. We were under pressure from first minute to last but we didn’t make any mistakes and defended well. We were compact and worked together and although there was a difficult period in the first half we put in a very mature performance,” Wenger said.
The remarkable feat in Arsenal’s performance was their response once they took the lead. Wenger’s men continued to defend well as a unit, but they retained possession and could’ve added to their lead from set pieces. While progression isn’t secured, Arsenal is in a great position to advance to the knockout round.