Dortmund have replaced their lost players at the cost of their style

Mike Hewitt

Borussia Dortmund have done a lot better than Arsenal at replacing their outgoing stars, but unlike the Gunners, they've done so at the expense of their style.

For all the talk of the Bundesliga overtaking the Premier League, which will be boosted by Dortmund's defeat of Arsenal last night, there is an elephant in the room for last year's Champions League finalists. The second biggest club in a league that has claims to be the world's greatest should not be suffering an annual struggle to keep hold of their best players. At the very least, they should look like winning it.

The fact that Dortmund would be able to bring on a number of youngsters or choose between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Robert Lewandowski will add to it. Meanwhile, Arsenal could only bring on Nicklas Bendtner, who had cleverly decided to sport a haircut that summed up his career, aiming to resemble Zlatan Ibrahimovic but ending up looking more like Andriy Voronin.

Yet despite all that, both sides were united by the fact that much of their transfer policy in recent years has been forced by attempting to replace departures. For their rivals, this has never been the case, and Dortmund have coped with it a lot better than Arsenal. The German club have adopted a similar strategy to other clubs in such a predicament, mostly bigger clubs in small leagues like Porto and Ajax. Through smart signings, they've been able to keep stability despite a high player turnover. Arsenal, meanwhile, have appeared comparatively directionless, until this season where the addition of Mesut Ozil appears to have galvanised them.

Yet while Dortmund have stuck to this blueprint well, they have done so almost too well. Henrik Mkhitaryan replacing Mario Gotze was the perfect example of finding an alternative from a source where the price wouldn't be too excessive. Ilkay Gundogan will surely become a superior player to Nuri Sahin, but whether he will still be at Dortmund when he reaches that level remains to be seen. And in Marco Reus, Dortmund replaced Shinji Kagawa with a superior player but one who doesn't seem to fit their style so well.

Nobody would deny that all are excellent transfers, bought at the right time, and that they have all worked out with the club. But the days of Dortmund being praised for their attractive, fluid football seem to be residual from their earlier side. They're no Stoke, but one recent transfer perhaps exemplifies the switch: Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang is another replacement, this time in advance of the departure of Robert Lewandowski, and while he has had a prolific start to his career, and may well prove to be just as good a player, he doesn't fit the mould of the all-round, technically-gifted striker that the Pole has proved to be when leading Dortmund's line.

This is not purely an aesthetic concern. Neither team were at their best at the Emirates last night, with a scrappy game leaving both sides unable to produce their best football. But it's hard to imagine the Dortmund of two years ago would've struggled to a similar degree, hoiking clearances aimlessly forwards and giving away possession so cheaply. Marco Reus was an upgrade on Shinji Kagawa, but the latter (the Dortmund version, not the pale shadow of him that currently limps around Manchester United's static centre) would not have been so frequently wasteful.

In short, Arsenal were there for the taking - they never settled into their rhythm all night, only scoring one fortunate goal after a defensive error. It was the sort of performance from the Gunners that resembled their worst nights in recent years, where more brutal teams have been able to punish them severely. Yet Dortmund looked uneasy too - incapable of settling and really imposing themselves on the game, despite always being capable of a moment of quality to score.

The huge financial disadvantage Dortmund find themselves at against their domestic rivals Bayern Munich means that they are always likely to be ground down over the long-term, and will ultimately struggle to compete. So far, they have been able to maintain their level of quality, but it has undoubtedly come at the expense of the team's style - whether the trade-off is worth remains to be seen.

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