Oct 22, 2013, 12:02 PM EDT
If there was ever a day to take an extended lunch break or come down with a bit of the afternoon flu, today is it.
Arsenal v. Borussia Dortmund, which has to be the most irresistible Champions League fixture so far this season.
Both sides play incredible football – Arsenal with their intelligent, calculated build-up play and Dortmund with their high octane counter-attacking flair – meaning individual player match-ups will be crucial to determining the outcome.
Here are three key battles to keep a close eye on.
Robert Lewandowski v. Laurent Koscielny
Dortmund are a side that take their chances and no player personifies this better than Robert Lewandowski. Give him an inch and he’ll punish you.
Although marking the Polish international will be a joint effort between Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, it’s the latter who more often than not will be marking Lewandowski. Koscielny’s speed and competitiveness will serve him well in this matchup but if the Frenchman is to prevail he’ll need to focus on keeping Lewandowski within an arms length and with his back to goal.
There’s no denying Kosicielny’s improvement since arriving at Arsenal – many now consider him to be one of the better centerbacks in the Premier League – but his downfall continues to be the over-marking of his man. This results in Koscielny getting spun and being forced into a desperate sliding tackle, which too often means a penalty for the opposition.
Lewandowski, in turn, will look to post and spin Koscielny and to engage the Frenchman in battles of skill that will serve to frustrate. For the Dortmund striker, success in this matchup will be about holding his patience and baiting Koscielny at every possible opportunity.
Mikel Arteta v. Henrikh Mkhitaryan
With Mathieu Flamini ruled out of the match through concussion, Mikel Arteta will be the defensive grit in Arsenal’s holding midfield pair.
Arteta’s main task will be to contain Dortmund’s new weapon, Armenian international Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who loves to run. Snuffing out counter-attacks before they have the chance to develop will be crucial for Arsenal and this means Arteta never getting caught in front of Mkhitaryan.
In addition to his work rate, the Dortmund playmaker is creative and technical but can be frustrated through tough marking. Arteta will do well to breathe down his neck at all opportunities and force him to forgo the killer pass into Lewadowski, Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
For Mkhitaryan to prevail, he must use his pace and imagination to his advantage. Interchanging with Reus and Aubameyang will give Arteta headaches and Mkhitaryan must test the Spaniard’s resolve by running at him off the dribble.
Mesut Ozil v. Nuri Sahin
The onus of containing the fabulous Mesut Ozil falls on Sven Bender, Dortmund’s defensive stallwart who holds BVB’s midfield together allowing the front five to attack.
Bender is a defensive midfielder of technique and intelligence, one who focuses more on intercepting the ball than destroying his adversaries with crunching tackles. He loves to sit in a deep, central position and mark players out of the game. This will be Bender’s plan for Ozil – dominate the space in front of the back four.
Not having to worry about broken ankles will please Ozil but Bender’s constant shadow in the center of the park could serve to annoy. Ozil will counter this approach by flairing out wide to create space for players like Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey – and even Olivier Giroud – to operate centrally. Ozil’s objective thereafter will be to slip deeper into the Dortmund defense, behind Bender, and to operate on the shoulders of Nevan Subotic and Mats Hummels.
Like Mkhitaryan, Ozil must also test Bender’s pace and resolve by running at him off the dribble and linking up with Giroud to slip through the Dortmund defense. With the Bender returning from injury, this is a battle Ozil should be chomping at the bit to dominate.
For more on Arsenal v. Dortmund and all of today’s games make sure to checkout Richard Farley’s impressive Champions League preview.
May 7, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
The trend of MLS teams playing extremely negative soccer away from home continues, unfortunately.
May 6, 2015, 10:29 PM EDT
Reinforcements are on the way and arriving in the Mile-High City sooner than previously anticipated.
May 6, 2015, 9:31 PM EDT
Europe’s second-tier competition kicks off its semifinal round on Thursday, and this year’s title is totally up for grabs.
May 6, 2015, 8:11 PM EDT
Newcastle’s first choice for a new manager has turned them down, so now what?
May 6, 2015, 6:35 PM EDT
It’s a long, long way back for Bayern Munich in the Champions League, but they’re keeping the faith — at least they’re trying to.
May 6, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
Messi’s magic leads the way as we were treated to a gem of a game at the Nou Camp. Here’s what we learned.
May 6, 2015, 5:05 PM EDT
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Lionel Messi, the world’s best player, scored a truly unbelievable goal.
May 6, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Manuel Neuer was Herculean in the first half, but Lionel Messi was magical during the second 45. Barca have one foot in the final.
May 6, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT
Real lead for a third-straight year, but Bayern Munich, United are the big climbers.
May 6, 2015, 2:59 PM EDT
Chaos in Spain as soccer is officially suspended.
May 6, 2015, 2:19 PM EDT
Listen to the latest pod, right here:
May 6, 2015, 1:54 PM EDT
Robert Lewandowski will play despite facial injuries, but a host of other Bayern players are out as Pep Guardiola returns to the Nou Camp.
May 6, 2015, 12:53 PM EDT
Two training ground injuries to both Philadelphia goalkeepers in a matter of seconds has Rais Mbolhi the only man currently under contract who is fit to start.
May 6, 2015, 12:20 PM EDT
They’ll have their defender back, but they can’t have the match back, and that may be the most painful.
May 6, 2015, 11:40 AM EDT
The Galaxy have signed a young American midfielder to give them a spark.
May 6, 2015, 10:48 AM EDT
He could bring balance back to the Juventus midfield for the second leg.
May 6, 2015, 9:49 AM EDT
Oh dear. Ohhhhhh dear. We all know how this one ends. All over YouTube.
May 6, 2015, 9:26 AM EDT
“Dressed in black as always” Diego Simeone says all he wants to do is manage the teams he played for.
May 6, 2015, 8:22 AM EDT
Young Mateo got the surprise of a lifetime on what he though was another routine call with a doctor.
May 6, 2015, 7:50 AM EDT
Birmingham City confirmed Packwood’s early release from his contract to “possibly” join the Revolution, whatever that means.
- Three things we learned from Barcelona’s huge win vs. Bayern Munich 2
- Barcelona 3-0 Bayern Munich: Messi magic negates Neuer’s first-half heroics 0
- Spanish FA suspends all domestic games over government dispute 2
- Men In Blazers podcast: Chelsea champs, relegation probe, and Domhnall Gleeson 0
- Freak double injury suddenly puts Rais Mbolhi back in pole position to start for Philadelphia 2
- Luis Suarez surprises Uruguayan cancer patient with video call, brings him to tears 2