The better defense could be the difference between Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund

Arsenal and Dortmund are two of the most free-flowing attacking sides in Europe but defending could be all-important when they face each other in the Champions League.
 Brendon Netto
 COMMENT | Europe
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Premier League audiences have been left drooling over some of Arsenal’s football of late as they’ve brushed teams away with panache but on Tuesday night, the Gunners entertain a German outfit that has displayed the form they now boast, on a consistent basis for years. Borussia Dortmund are one of the few sides in Europe that can match Arsenal in the attacking third at the moment and that’s precisely why defense could be the key department when the two teams clash in the Champions League.

Especially after being treated to a bit of party-football in Arsenal’s latest 4-1 victory at home to Norwich City, with Jack Wilshere's goal being the pick of the lot, spectators understandably expect a goal-fest, or a hugely entertaining game at the very least, when a free-scoring Dortmund side threads onto the pitch at the Emirates Stadium.

Party-football| Wilshere's sublime goal on Saturday

So far this season, Arsenal have plundered 28 goals and conceded 11 from their 13 games in all competitions. Meanwhile, their German counterparts have been in similar form, hammering in 35 goals and leaking 11 from their 14 games this term. Both sides have clearly been irresistible in attack but have succumbed to the occasional lapse in defense as well.

Going forward, there’s no stopping either team from creating chances in their current form so perhaps it’s not about who plays the more attacking football or who has the most shots but it could well come down to who offers more resistance. Arsenal have only kept one clean sheet in the league while Dortmund have let in more than one goal on five occasions this season.

The Bundesliga giants will be without long-term absentee Lukasz Piszczek at right-back as Kevin Großkreutz, a midfielder by trade, continues to fill in for him. Meanwhile, Arsenal are at full-strength in defense but Arsene Wenger may contemplate introducing Thomas Vermaelen in place of Per Mertesacker for this particular encounter.

Can Mertesacker handle Dortmund's pace?

The towering center-back has been in good form following a difficult start to the life in the Premier League last season but his lack of pace and agility could prove to be a liability against the nimble footed Dortmund attackers. Wenger won’t want to see him isolated against the likes of Marco Reus, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Arsenal may have to make do without Mathieu Flamini in midfield who suffered a concussion in Saturday’s game and will hence have to be on their toes at the back with the Frenchman not around to protect their defense.

In accordance with the philosophies of the two sides, neither are likely to pull any punches when they meet. Arsenal blew Napoli away by starting at a frantic pace but in Dortmund they face a team that’s well capable of keeping up with them. In fact, if they do attack Jurgen Klopp’s troops with quite as much candor, they run the risk of being caught on the counter-attack given the efficiency of their opponents on the break.

Dortmund won't hold back either

On the other hand, Arsenal’s movement and quick exchanges this season have rendered them a pretty potent counter-attacking unit as well and Dortmund may regret their own advances if they’re not careful. Both sides operate in a fluid 4-2-3-1 system, drawing further similarities although Dortmund’s tactic of pressing their opponents high up the pitch is far more aggressive.

The likes of Reus, Robert Lewandowski, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey have been the standout players for the two teams this season but on Tuesday night they’ll have to call on their defenders to put in big performances as well.

Attacking players will shine but defenders must step up

Both sets of back fours will have to be alert and track runners who will constantly be looking to get in behind which is a viable ploy considering the tendency of both defenses to adopt a high-line. Furthermore, the midfielders on either side will be bursting into the two penalty areas and it will be up to the center-backs in particular to maintain their concentration and pick them up.

The encounter promises to be an exhilarating one and should be played at a breath-taking pace. There’s bound to be plenty of chances and some exquisite attacking play will feature as well but for two teams so gifted up front, it could well be the side with the better defense on the night that triumphs.

Who do you think will win this encounter? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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