Ordinarily, while a 2-0 win looks comfortable, it rarely constitutes a thrashing in football. But, in Dortmund on Tuesday night, never has a 2-0 defeat felt like such a pummelling.
Arsenal’s performance in the first group match of this season’s Champions League was embarrassing. It’s fine if you lose having put up a great fight. Sometimes things go against you, but if you’ve given everything and still lost, that’s acceptable. I can’t really pinpoint what the hell was wrong with Arsenal’s state of mind on Tuesday, but no-one seemed to turn up and the Gunners were lucky to only lose 2-0.
Having shown some fight against Manchester City, albeit without winning on Saturday, there was none of it on show in Dortmund.
Many have used the defeat to immediately beat Arsene Wenger with the transfer stick, with the much yearned-for defensive midfielder brought up again. One of them would have been great, but that wasn’t the main problem on Tuesday. For some reason, Arsenal allowed themselves to be over-run by Dortmund who were sharper, hungrier and quicker than Arsenal in every area of the pitch.
The other popular person to criticise has been Mesut Ozil. Yes, he was poor against Dortmund, but he rarely received the ball in an area of the pitch where he could be dangerous because Arsenal couldn’t build many meaningful attacks. The German should probably start this weekend’s game with Villa on the bench, and with the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla and Rosicky in the squad, there are players that can be excellent replacements. Ozil isn’t in good form at the moment, but he’s too good for that to not end sooner rather than later.
One of the many frustrating things about the game was how Arsenal’s midfield seemed non-existent for the majority of the match. There have been fleeting glimpses of the formation working, but for the most part, I’m unconvinced by the summer switch Arsenal have made from 4-2-3-1 to 4-1-4-1. There still seems some confusion from those in the midfield about the roles of the players around them, with no-one certain when to push on. Often, both central players in the second line of four push forward, leaving the one defensive midfielder exposed on the break. This is made to look worse if one or both of Arsenal’s full backs have gone forward as well. On the flip side, when defending, those two central players can sit too close to the defensive midfielder, almost making a flat three in central midfield, making it harder to then have a quick link to the centre forward. The wingers sometimes drift inside to fill the gap and suddenly Arsenal then have a lop-sided attack.
Clearly Arsene Wenger has seen something in training to convince him to persist with this formation, but with Ramsey out of form and Wilshere potentially injured again after turning his ankle on Tuesday night, I’d like to see Cazorla or Rosicky in the attacking midfield position just behind Danny Welbeck on Saturday. Both players can play a high tempo, pressing game when defending from the front, and both can quickly turn defence into attack from the centre of the pitch.
One of the few crumbs of comfort from the defeat is that it was only the first game. In 2003/04, Arsenal got one point from their first three group matches and still went through as winners. With Dortmund looking good, I doubt Arsenal could get away with that sort of form this season and still win the group, but there is still time, and three home games, left to get the points required. But, many more performances like the pathetic one in Dortmund and that time will rapidly disappear.