Is Arsene Wenger to Blame for Arsenal’s Champions League Loss to Borussia Dortmund?


Jul 26, 2014; Harrison, NJ, USA; Arsenal keeper Damien Martinez makes a save in the 2nd half at Red Bull Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aristide Economopoulos – The Star-Ledger

Heading into Tuesday’s clash with German giants Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had plenty of decisions to make.

Some decisions were easy to make, but others have fans and pundits alike picking apart the gunners side. At the bookends of the pitch, Wenger didn’t have much hesitation in selecting his side.

Up top, Danny Welbeck is the only healthy senior center forward in the side – as he clearly views Joel Campbell and Lukas Podolski as support strikers.

In the back, Szczesny is the team’s number one keeper, and Mertesacker and Koscielny are the preferred center back pairing. When healthy Kieran Gibbs is typically the top choice at left back, and provided the most key passes in the side – 2, per

Right back caused more delay in Wenger’s thinking, missing first choice Mathieu Debuchy to a recently suffered ankle injury and fresh-faced Calum Chambers fighting off tonsillitis in attempt to be fit in time, youngster Hector Bellerin got the nod.

Bellerin, 19, has been impressive in pre-season cameos, but hasn’t exactly been blooded into the side, and to do such in a hostile atmosphere such as the Westfalonstadion is a lot to ask. Though, he didn’t seem completely out-of-place on the night.

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In the middle of the park is where Wenger has more options. Much has been made about the 4-1-4-1 that has been employed by Wenger as of late, since it forces playmaker Mesut Özil out of the whole and onto the wing, but there has to be some method to the madness.

It all starts with the holding role for Arsenal.

When Arsenal employs Per Mertesacker in the back, it’s all-but essential that they play a holding midfielder to shield the back line due to the lack of pace Mertesacker possesses. And since no new options were brought in, the two players mainly at Wenger’s disposal in this role are skipper Mikel Arteta and the feisty Mathieu Flamini. For this match, Arteta was selected, most likely since he is the better distributor of the two, and would be key to breaking BVB’s vaulted pressing game.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, Arteta, too lacks pace, and needs help covering in the midfield.

This has led Wenger to pick both Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere in the center of the park. Both players are best when getting forward and playing as a box-to-box style midfielder, so in theory, playing them together gives the best cover for Arteta since one can stay at home while the other forays forward and vice versa.

For this to work, the players must be in sync, and is going to be spaced the best when Arsenal begin to possess and dominate the game. The gunners never seemed to get this in game, partially due to the pace that Dortmund played at. Arteta seemed completely out of his element, while Wishere and Ramsey lacked purpose with their movements.

The decision to give Arteta assistance, further forces Wenger’s hand with his decisions further up the pitch.

While quick, Özil is definitely no burner, and doesn’t want to beat players to the byline, but to find pockets of space to thread soul crushing passes through the defense. Playing on the right should allow him to cut in on his favored left foot and do just that.

He could switch his system to a diamond in order to get Özil in the hole, but Wenger is steadfast with his use of the wings, despite rarely using traditional wingers in this role, and would leave his team with three covering the back four instead of two lines of four.

Against Dortmund, Özil played primarily on the right wing. And, this is a position that should suit him quite well. While quick, Özil is definitely no burner, and doesn’t want to beat players to the byline, but to find pockets of space to thread soul crushing passes through the defense.

Playing on the right should allow him to cut in on his favored left foot and do just that. This also allows for an overlap for the full-back to fill. And, while it is a lot to ask of the nineteen year-old, he’s actually most comfortable supporting the attack, and by Wenger’s own admission plays a good final ball.

Also, Özil playing on the wing should give the team a very effective outlet to hit the counter with, as seen with Germany in the World Cup, Özil is exceptional at taking his space, driving forward while rarely being disposed with the dribble, and there’s not many in the world who would be rated higher at picking out a final pass.

Much was made about Özil’s lack of defensive cover for the young right back, but with effectively three in the middle, Ramsey was able to slide over and provide support when Özil was lack luster with his work rate.

This leaves Alexis Sanchez as the last member of the squad, though likely one of the first players on the team sheet. Sanchez feels like he’s everywhere on the pitch and more than pulls his weight defensively, and provides as a secondary forward to look to attack through.

So when it comes down to it, could Wenger have done much more?

Maybe? Perhaps he could go with a rotating three in the midfield of Wilshere, Cazorla and Ramsey with Wilshere sitting deepest of the three, and each rotating to cover equally, but how much time has been dedicated to finding the chemistry that would be so vital to that system. Maybe he could go to a diamond midfield and play Özil in the hole as previously mentioned, but that would put even more stress on the full-backs, and provide even less defensive coverage against a Dortmund team that as seen, is quick to pounce.

Wenger has to take some sort of blame here, failing to purchase a new holding mid, but one can see the vision and ideas he approached this game with. But, he also can’t be totally accountable for Alexis being caught out of pace in the game at times, Welbeck failing to capitalize, Özil failing to make a foothold in the game, Arteta being steps behind and untidy in possession, wandering from his central midfielders and the lack of pace from his center backs.