That Arsenal are in need of a strong, tough tackling holding midfielder has been repeated enough by pundits and journalists over the last couple of seasons that it has become something of a banal argument. Unfortunately for Arsenal supporters such an oft-repeated argument is likely to have some truth to it and over the club's last two games the lack of a midfielder capable of protecting the back four has been glaringly obvious.
At the weekend Mathieu Flamini played the holding role and failed to track Sergio Aguero's run from deep in midfield leading to Manchester City's opener. Today, Arsenal stuck with the same 4-3-3 (or 4-1-4-1 if you prefer) formation as the City game. This time it was Mikel Arteta at the base of midfield with Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey on either side of him further up the pitch. The number of times the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ciro Immobile were able to get on the ball for Dortmund in behind the Arsenal midfield and run at the two center backs was staggering. Those three players are pacey and direct. Arteta has never been especially quick and at 33 it's a massive ask of him to be responsible for slowing down the counters of a side that breaks with the exceptional speed and directness of Dortmund.
It's easy to second guess Wenger after the fact but it's puzzling that he hasn't seemed to address just how much defensive pressure his new 4-1-4-1 formation, with Ramsey taking on a role higher up the pitch than last season, puts on the holding midfielder- either Flamini or Arteta, both of whom are not mobile enough to fulfill that role. Against opposition that likes to patiently build from the back and have a lot of possession I think it'll work fine- Arsenal will have the time to get numbers behind the ball and the holding midfielder won't be left as exposed- but against sides that can break forward as quickly as Man City and Dortmund it leaves Arsenal vulnerable on the counter. The shape looks decent defensively when Arsenal have the time to get players behind the ball. They're actually defending with three in the middle of midfield and leaving just Welbeck up front, rather than defending with banks of four and leaving both Ozil and the striker high as they did last season. That extra body in the midfield bank of five allows Wilshere and Ramsey to press the ball and Arteta to sit in the hole behind them, denying the opposition space between the lines. However, the issues have arisen when Arsenal concede possession in the opposition's defensive half. With both Wilshere and Ramsey moving into advanced positions in the attacking third, there is space either side the holding midfielder for the opposition to play outlet passes into and break forward quickly. Once they get the ball in these spaces it's down to Mertesacker and Koscielny to come up big.
Perhaps against a side that likes to play as vertically on the break as Dortmund, the answer for Arsenal should have been to get behind the ball, allow Dortmund more possession and play a bit more on the break. Arsenal had 56% possession but as they kept the ball and advanced up the pitch they were playing into the hands of Dortmund's relentless midfield press and quick countering style.