Arsenal vs. Borussia Dortmund: Outlining the Champions League Tactical Duel

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterOctober 21, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 19:  Mesut Oezil of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at the Emirates Stadium on October 19, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

On Tuesday, October 22, Arsenal host Borussia Dortmund in a UEFA Champions League tie we simply cannot wait to get our teeth into.

The Gunners felt hard done by when the draw was made, but fast-forward 10 weeks and a confident North London outfit are raring to go and eager to show they can match up to Europe's best.

Here, we preview the tactical battle ahead and how the game may pan out.


A Clash of Similar Styles

Arsenal, with their tails up, can look a little similar to Borussia Dortmund nowadays.

That's no slight on BVB, more a compliment to the in-form Gunners; They can opt to break with pace, slow the tempo with long spells of possession or build chunks of pressure.

The difference is that Arsenal's players can do it all, whereas Dortmund's XI is essentially split in half: Marco Reus counters, Ilkay Gundogan slows the pace, but Aaron Ramsey is the happy medium.

In full flow, Juergen Klopp's side are something else and will be happy to concede possession so they can hit the home side on the break. Arsene Wenger's men are capable of the very same tactic, and it may not come down to who controls the ball, but who fashions the most clear-cut chances.


Mathieu Flamini & Sven Bender

Two prototypical anchor midfielders who excel in their defensive duties will take to the field on Tuesday night.

Flamini, back with Arsenal this season on a free transfer after bringing an injury-plagued Milan career to a close, has looked phenomenal thus far. He's a tough-tackling, hard-nosed enforcer who can pass, lead, direct and read the game.

The Gunners were conceding a lot of soft goals from counterattacks last season with Mikel Arteta in holding midfield, and an attacking unit led by Reus would have wreaked havoc on this team 12 months ago.

But Flamini has plugged a lot of gaps and has essentially re-established himself as a factor in the sport by returning to the Emirates Stadium.

His opposite number on the night, Bender, has absolutely no re-establishing to do; he stands as a premier anchor in world football after two incredibly consistent seasons.

There are very few players in world football as capable of shutting out No. 10s and midfield runners as Bender is, as his tracking and and awareness are as good as it gets.

He warmed up for the contest by executing four interceptions and eight tackles against Hannover at the weekend, and if anyone can close out space for Mesut Ozil, it's him.


Marco Reus & Mesut Ozil

Robert Lewandowski will haunt the Arsenal defensive line but also drop deep to mix it with the midfield; Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a formidable runner and playmaker from behind the striker; Jakub Blaszczyowski is fast, penetrative and gives the left-back something different to think about on the touchline.

In short, Dortmund have a lot of attacking options, a plethora of avenues, but their standout player is the dynamic, prolific Marco Reus.

He'll line up on the left-hand side of Klopp's 4-2-3-1 formation and cut in off the flank. Running at players is his forte, and BVB will look for Reus early and often in counterattacks through Nuri Sahin or Mats Hummels.

Reus avoids Lahm in the 2013 UCL final
Reus avoids Lahm in the 2013 UCL finalAlex Livesey/Getty Images

He thrives off assistance from deep to get him going, and the reason teams have been unable to shut down that service—despite a Europe-wide clamping of deep-lying playmakers—is the passes Hummels is able to execute from the defensive line. They keep Reus ticking over even when Gundogan or Sahin are marked.

The reason he's so good is he makes correct decisions at full speed, and that prowess extends to Arsenal's key player Mesut Ozil too.

The £42 million man will be coming up against at least three international colleagues, and Klopp will be hoping Bender and co. have some ideas on how to stop his influence.

Ramsey's form is a major factor in Ozil's consistency, as teams are unable to simply key in on the main man in attack. Olivier Giroud, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla are all pulling their weight in the side too, making it almost impossible to plan for each individual.


Key Questions

1. Can Flamini halt quick transitions and breaks from Reus?
2. Are Arsenal able to stifle the first pass out and contain Dortmund on the break?
3. Can Bender handle the movement of Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla and Giroud?
4. Is Nacho Monreal the smart play for defensive positioning, or Kieran Gibbs due to his pace?
5. Will BVB be able to pull the defensive line around to create pockets of space?




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