Borussia Dortmund 2 – 0 Arsenal
1 – 0 Immobile (45)
2 – 0 Aubameyang (48)
It didn’t turn out yo that long a season, did it Kathy?
As a teenager living in The Cotswolds, Smash and Grab was a familiar phrase. Not because it was some pre-digital Liberty City or prone to ramraids that didn’t leave male sheep worried. No, HTV made a great play of the reputation of Bruce a Bannister and Alan Warboys, Bristol Rovers feared strike force of the time. Feared by lower league standards, at least. Twelve months ago, Arsenal launched their own Smash and Grab in Dortmund. The same venue, a year on, asked deeper questions of this year’s squad. A year on, six months, whatever timescale it is and the same frailties from the ‘big’ matches remain unsolved.
The astute among you have already worked out that I am struggling for any positive from last night’s performance. I genuinely can’t. The team were disjointed, individuals were poor, others distinctly average. When a hero was needed, none could be found to inspire others to raise their games.
And none of this is new.
I can’t think of a strong Arsenal performance in a match against a top side away from home. One where we stood toe-to-toe rather than nicking a win. You have to do the latter sometimes but a club which has ambitions to prosper has to find more of the former to succeed.
Post-match, Arsène did not seek to dress the match any differently from how it had been seen, making Mikel Arteta’s interpretation of events all the more baffling. It wasn’t a night to put a positive spin on proceedings. Tell it like it was, Arsenal were awful. The two goals were poor to concede, not just in the manner but also the timing. Close to half-time, possession should be controlled, not hurried and most important cherished. Keep the ball, don’t surrender it cheaply and above all else, don’t let an opposing forward run half the length of the pitch unchallenged. Which part of that is difficult?
All of it apparently, as Immobile scored the opening goal with virtually the last kick of the half. Yes, he had a touch of luck with a stumbling miscontrol that ran kindly but why no challenge of any intent from two – TWO – Arsenal defenders? It was a great finish. New half but only three minutes later, it wasn’t quite a case of history repeating itself but as close as they come. Immobile and Aubameyang exploited indecision in the Arsenal defence, midfield – the Arsenal side – before one person took a decision. Unfortunately Szczesny’s charge from goal allowed the Gabonese striker to round him and score.
It was a fair reflection of the game at that point and in truth the final margin of defeat should have been double that or more.
Nearly five hundred words and no mention of any individual performances. It is, I hear you say, impressive restraint. To be honest, I don’t know where to begin. Too many players were off-key for it to be a one-off; Arsenal just cannot cope with opponents who pressurise them from the off. The heavy defeats in 2014 all followed a similar pattern; had Dortmund been more ruthless in front of goal, we could quite easily have conceded six last night. All through the summer the mantra was, “We have to do better in the big games“, Jack Wilshere repeated it with the City and Dortmund matches approaches. Can we say that anything has changed from last year?
Mikel Arteta’s return last night was not unexpected but his lay-off has taken its toll on his match fitness. Certainly he contributed to the goal by letting the ball run across his body but in itself, those mistakes are not surprising; to err is human. Where the midfield and consequently the defence, were exposed was the lack of pace. Dortmund were on the Arsenal players very quickly to win possession and with the ball broke swiftly. Arteta took up some good positions to counter but the speed of passing undid that work. Once the ball went by, a player who was never blessed with pace in his prime, was exposed and unable to make up the ground. It highlights why most wanted – and still want – Arsène to sign a more athletic player for that role.
The World Cup has undoubtedly impacted on the pre-season, it was curtailed for most and certainly the Germans. Özil is a creative player, one of the best in the world but starve him of possession and fail to support, he isn’t going to shine. The left-wing position is not too much of an issue, it’s almost notional but with an attack-minded full back there are gaps to be exploited by opponents and Dortmund did that last night. They aren’t the first and won’t be the last.
It comes down to two areas; preparation and performance. Arsène reacted to performances with Özil and Ramsey withdrawn. The German is the target of criticism at the moment but Ramsey is not far behind in the manner of his performances have tailed off recently. Both of them want to be the best in the world in their positions, you can see that ambition by their careers to date. For me, a world-class player will make the difference, drag the side out of a malaise and get people ‘gee-d’ up; a world-class player is a leader and both need to inject that quality into the games more consistently because they have proven in the past that they can do so.
Preparation is down to Arsène and his assistants. They know how teams will attack Arsenal, it has happened often enough and Dortmund are not a new opponent. There wasn’t much difference in their approach from last season so surely we could have anticipated what might happen. The problem is that like set-pieces, we don’t have players who can replicate that intensity in an attacking sense so how can we practice defending against it. Part of that would be compensating for Arteta’s pace by having someone more youthful alongside him in a deep role, 4-2-3-1 rather than 4-1-4-1 which essentially has three attacking players in the advanced quartet. Whilst Arsène believes Jack Wilshere to be more effective in the advanced role, perhaps he ought to consider Roy Hodgson may have seen something in Wilshere that has qualities Arsenal can utilise as well. We might not find that out for a while given his injury is to his ankle.
I don’t know the answers but I am not sure the manager has them either. Too much of last night was repetition; lessons haven’t been learned. I am not sure they will be either.