Both managers played their expected sides as Dortmund came to London looking to get back into the group. They both lined up in 4-2-3-1 shapes but there were differences in individual instructions and pressing.
Dortmund press high
Jurgen Klopp said before the match that the way to stop Robin van Persie was to stop him getting the ball. Dortmund are known by their pressing and they did well here, harrying Arsenal at every turn and forcing multiple turnovers in the opening 15-20 minutes. The Germans couldn’t capitalize, however, and eventually Arsenal settled in and had an easier time keeping the ball.
This didn’t mean that Arsenal had the upper hand, however, as much of their possession was deep in their own half. Shinji Kagawa joined Robert Lewandowski in pressing Arsenal’s central defenders which pushed the entire Arsenal defensive line, which usually likes to operate very high, quite deep. Klopp’s plan was working; Dortmund basically were 4-4-2 without the ball as Kagawa and Lewandowski pressed the centre backs, their wingers were on the full backs, and Dortmund’s central midfielders pushed up to meet Arsenal’s.
Theoretically this should have left Aaron Ramsey free in the hole but often in the first half he was too far away from the ball to make a difference. As a result Arsenal looked best when they managed to manufacture possession in Dortmund’s half (via throw ins or free kicks) or when they went more direct; Theo Walcott was the home side’s most dangerous player of the half with his runs in behind Dortmund’s defense but a combination of good keeping from Roman Weidenfeller and great reading of the game by Mats Hummels kept Arsenal off the score sheet.
Dortmund lacking creativity, Arsenal find it
While the Bundesliga champions were doing well in their pressing they were unable to turn that into offense. After the frantic opening where Dortmund were routinely winning the ball off Arsenal their pressing was mainly meeting the player on the ball and jockeying, so they weren’t going to score by winning the ball in an advantageous position. They also lost Sven Bender and Mario Gotze to injury in the first half which severely reduced the amount of attacking talent they had on the pitch. Gotze is obviously a big loss in the final third and Bender has emerged this season as a force going forward. Last season he was the ‘vacuum cleaner’ alongside Nuri Sahin but when the Turk left Ilkay Gundogan was brought in to create from deep. When it became apparent Gundogan wasn’t suited for that role Klopp inserted Sebastian Kehl beside Bender and asked Bender to do more in attack, which he had been doing recently.
On the other side Arsenal’s attackers had started coming deeper and closer to the ball which allowed them to keep it better and to get it into Dortmund’s third. The goals themselves were not exactly created by Arsenal’s sustained pressure by their creative players in the opposition half – Alex Song popped up in an unexpected area with an unexpected bit of skill for the opener and the second was off of a corner kick. However, as the game went on Arsenal did look the more likely to create a genuine opportunity. Klopp tried to get his side back into the match by adding Lucas Barrios and pushing Kevin Grosskreutz back into central midfield but Grosskreutz isn’t exactly the type of player you want to have creating in the middle of the park when you’re chasing a game.
Dortmund did well at first to stymie the supply to van Persie but eventually the Dutchman found the ball at his feet (and head) to score a brace. Injuries and a lack of creativity hampered the visitors but they will be buoyed by Marseille’s loss as they still have a chance to qualify for the next round.
To be successful they will need to:
1) Have their key players return from injury
2) Continue to press intelligently and use it to foster their attack
3) Have their high line withstand the inevitable counters – an in form and cerebral Hummels coupled with a quick rest of the defense (Santana, Schmelzer, and Piszczek) are capable of this
Overall a decent showing from both sides but Dortmund will be disappointed as they desperately needed the three points more than Arsenal.