Friday, 25 October 2013

Arsenal 1-2 Dortmund: Cracks beginning to show?

Let's be honest, Arsenal lost against a superior Dortmund side who had clearly done their homework. It wasn't a lucky win for them, nor was it an unlucky loss for us. And while the general feeling is that Arsenal can look back at this game as a mere bump in the road, I feel that we need to have a cold, hard look in the mirror at ourselves, pay attention to our mistakes and never have a repeat of such games.

After noticing how brilliant they were in the initial 10 minutes, Arsene should've worked out a strategy. Instead of playing passes to whichever person was available, he should've told his team to go all Barcelona and sap the life of the game. By playing safe passes among the defence (Arteta could've taken the lead there), we could've calmed down our team, drained the flair of theirs, and work slowly but surely towards creating openings, kind of like how we played at the end of last season. I know it wasn't the most attractive plan, and it's certainly betraying our footballing philosophy, but we need to remember that results are always greater than performances.

Instead, we bottled it. Instead of implementing a strategy, we played without any proper plan and thus played right into their hands. They got the lead in the 16th minute and they deserved it because of their pressing, desire and technical brilliance. However, the fashion in which we conceded was just sloppy. My increasing concerns of Ramsey's solo play weren't unfounded after all, as he tried to dribble past Lewandowski and failed miserably. Lewandowski played a simple pass to Mkhitaryan, who slotted coolly past Szczesny. 1-0 to them.

It was a setback, all right, and one we had to recover from. However, it was infuriating to see us continuing our same style of play which had fallen flat in the initial stages of the game. How can Arsene be so blind, not notice that his game play wasn't working at all, not switch to a new one and not adapt to the changing situation? Dortmund knew our tactics, countered them brilliantly and were firmly on top. We, instead of changing our tactics and causing them problems, stuck with our passing 'game' and made it much simpler for them. I think an Albert Einstein quote fits this situation perfectly: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

The only factor that supported our strategy was that eventually they would get tired and we could capitalize on that. And that is exactly why we dominated the closing stages of the first half, and got a lucky Olivier Giroud goal. Ramsey's wide pass to Sagna found him in space and his cross to Ollie was good. (About time!) Weidenfeller, who played like Almunia in the first half, failed to catch it, which left Giroud to smash a tap-in. Though it was lucky, it was a goal that represented fruit for our labour, and for me, who else deserved that more than Giroud, who was our best player on the pitch for    the first half?

I'm having serious doubts over Wenger's tactical capability after I saw that he didn't make any change to our strategy in the game. I had stressed earlier that Dortmund would be a difficult matchup, and winning dirty should be the order of the day. However, instead of facing facts, Wenger didn't do anything to the formation, the tactics or anything, and thus witnessed a repeat of the first half. I don't know why he won't hand the mike over to Steve Bould and let him do a better job than him. Maybe he is like the dictator Stewart Robson compares him to be, I don't know. What I do know that it's just frustrating to watch the world burn and know that there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. 

The introduction of Santi for Wilshere livened things up for us, and while bringing Cazorla on was a good move, it should've been Ramsey to make way for him. Wilshere and Rosicky bring flair to the team, which was necessary against a team like Dortmund. Plus, even though stats speak against him, Wilshere was slowly growing into the game, and could've made a difference later on. We pressurized after fatigue caught up with them, the highlight being Cazorla almost scoring, and Ozil finally getting into the game.

However, they hit us with a classic sucker punch in the 81st minute. Grosskreutz overlapped down the right through a counterattack and his deep cross was volleyed home by Lewandowski lurking at the far post. It was particularly painful for me, because I felt that we were growing into the game and were more in a position to win it. It was definitely against the run of play, which made it much more harder to stomach.

They played out the rest of the game and won professionally, fair and square. And while I'd say fair play to them, 'cause they deserved that, this loss gives a much clearer picture on our team, especially our flaws.

This team, I have realized, is slowly starting to get reliant on Flamini, Ozil and Giroud. Screw the defence, our whole team looked a bit disjointed due to Flamini's absence. Dortmund cleverly neutralized Ozil's threat, which stemmed the flow of a lot of our attacks. Giroud, the only striker we have (please don't say Nicklas Bendtner), was easily one of the best players on the pitch, but he well won't be able to carry on that form for the whole year. Ramsey's form has dropped because he seems to be putting himself in front of the team, and Koscielny and Mertesacker are badly missing that aggressive Frenchman already.

It's astonishing how one loss after 12 games changes the face of football. We are now second to Dortmund in the group, and if we need that first spot, it makes the game at the Westfalenstadion a "must win". I have no idea how we "will win" though, especially because Klopp will return from his touchline ban for that game, not to mention a probability of Gundogan, Piszczek and Kehl being fit for that game. The Champions League qualification road doesn't look very bright, I must say.   

I could actually go on for a while about a lot of problems this club is facing right now which have been falling on deaf ears, but I think that's one for another blog post. All I can say is this: after a straightforward match against Crystal Palace, we face Chelsea, Liverpool, Dortmund and Manchester United in a row. And those 4 games should give a bigger picture of the quality of the club than the previous 14.

Please tell me I'm being paranoid, Arsene, by getting us back on track.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )