Thursday, 18 September 2014

Gunners blitzed

Dortmund 2-0 Arsenal

There are times in football when you just have to hold your hands up and accept the opposition were the better team on the day. At the final whistle last night, even the most ardent Arsenal supporter had to admit Borussia Dortmund were superior in every single department. For anyone who refused to accept this fact, one glance at the shots on goal stats said it all, with the Gunners only registering 4 attempts to Dortmund’s 22.

Going into this game much was made of the home side’s substantial injury list, with star player Marco Reus the most notable absentee. It was said this would be an opportune time for Arsenal to face the Germans despite the Gunners experiencing their own injury crisis in defence. Yet from the very first minute of the game, Dortmund were simply exceptional. Wearing their traditional yellow and black kit, the home side swarmed all over the Gunners like bees, forcing their opponents to concede possession in dangerous areas time and time again. Their work rate, hunger and desire were phenomenal. At times it appeared Dortmund had more men on the pitch, as every time an Arsenal player had the ball, he was immediately surrounded by yellow shirts.

The Gunners couldn’t get out of their own half for large periods of the game as they stubbornly refused to abandon their philosophy of playing out from the back. This was a strange decision to take as with Dortmund pressing so high and Arsenal having the pace of Sanchez and Welbeck in attack, the logical thing to do would have been to play long balls in behind the home side’s defence for Sanchez and Welbeck to chase. This threat would have relieved the constant pressure on the Arsenal defence and forced Dortmund to sit slightly deeper. Consequently, as the game progressed, Arsenal would have been afforded more space and time to assert their passing game, gaining a foothold in the match.

The lack of a real physical presence in the defensive midfield role was once again highlighted here. With Flamini suffering from a thigh knock, Arteta came in to replace the Frenchman but was completely out of his depth and overrun as he failed to live with the constant running of the Dortmund midfield. In fact such was the home side’s dominance that the Arsenal midfield was virtually non-existent. Ramsey, Wilshere, Arteta, Ozil and Sanchez barely featured at all in the game. Even when changes were made, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski also failed to have any influence on the match.

Having performed so well against Manchester City, this was a team that was unrecognisable from Saturday. Dortmund had chance after chance and should have won the game by a far greater margin. In the first half alone Szczesny was forced to make a point-blank stop to deny Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan missed a golden opportunity thanks to Wilshere’s last ditch tackle, before Aubameyang was denied at the near post by Szczesny as shots rained in on the Arsenal goal.

Somehow the Gunners had survived and actually had a clear cut opportunity of their own to take the lead as Ramsey’s reverse pass released Welbeck through on goal, only for the Englishman to steer his shot wide. Unfortunately for Welbeck every time he fails to convert such an opportunity, the parting words of Luis Van Gaal, who stated the former Manchester United man’s goal scoring record was not good enough for the top level, will be ringing in his ears. Welbeck needs that first goal in an Arsenal shirt to kick start his Gunners career. With every clear cut opportunity missed, the pressure on his shoulders will increase, making the next chance all the more difficult to take.

As halftime approached it appeared as though Arsenal had somehow survived. But with seconds remaining, Dortmund got their just reward as Ciro Immobile ran almost the entire half of the pitch, powering past Koscielny before steering the ball past Szczesny to give the home side the lead.

Having conceded so close to the interval, it was imperative for the Gunners to hold firm for the opening 10 – 15 minutes of the second period. Yet only three minutes into the second half, Dortmund doubled their advantage and the game was virtually over. Immobile this time turned provider, lofting the ball over the Arsenal defence to Aubameyang, whose forward run was unchecked. The Gabon international’s first touch enabled him to take the ball round Szczesny and fire into the empty net.

Still the barrage didn’t let up. Immobile forced Szczesny into a fine save to tip the ball over the crossbar, Aubameyang burst forward once again and saw his shot clip the crossbar, before Mkhitaryan blazed an effort into the crowd with Szczesny beaten. At the final whistle, Arsenal could have no complaints.

This was a truly humbling experience for Arsene Wenger’s side. The Gunners were simply outfought in every single department throughout the entire 90 minutes. The fact Dortmund had so many players out injured only served to highlight the sheer gulf in quality between the two sides. Arsenal’s lack of a plan B and ability to adapt to a situation, instead steadfastly sticking to their passing game despite it clearly failing, was frustrating to watch. Having spent a large sum in the summer transfer window, it is disappointing to see the same deficiencies still remain, which does not bode well for the away games against the top sides in the Premier League. The Gunners defence is vulnerable and has no real protection from a deep lying midfield player. As a result, if the attacking department is struggling, constant pressure is applied to the defence which they are incapable of withstanding. A chastened Arsenal now face a somewhat daunting trip to highflying Aston Villa, who are full of confidence having just defeated Liverpool at Anfield. The Gunners will have to improve significantly to get anything out of that game.   

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