Feb 19, 2014, 4:27 AM EDT
Jonathan Wilson took a crack at trying to figure out Bayern Munich from Arsenal’s point of view, but while acknowledging the defending European champions’ tactically flexibility, The Guardian’s tactics specialist described the Gunners’ choices as a series of middling tradeoffs. Perhaps Arsène Wenger could switch to a 4-3-3 formation (from a 4-2-3-1) or make a concerted effort to limit the influence of Philipp Lahm, regardless of the position the Bayern captain plays. Ultimately, however, the intensity and efficiency with which Bayern plays gives Pep Guardiola’s team its greatest advantage. A change in formation won’t offset that edge.
So the question ahead of Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League match in London — the first of two in the teams’ Round of 16 matchup — may be less how Arsenal can match up with Bayern than why this year’s meeting will be different from last’s. In the same round of last year’s competition, Bayern took a 3-1, first leg lead out of the Emirates. Three months later, the Bavarians claimed their fifth European title.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, Bayern Munich are even stronger this year. Pep Guardiola has replaced Jupp Heynckes as head coach, bringing in a slightly different tactical approach as well as a new way to use players like Lahm (a fullback that’s been converted to defensive midfield). Mario Götze has joined from Borussia Dortmund, as has Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona. Attempting to improve on a team that dominated last year’s Bundesliga, Guardiola has crafted a crew that averages 70.4 percent possession and nearly 20 shots per match (19.2). They’ve become prohibitive favorites to be the first team since Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan to claim consecutive European titles.
As hinted in Wilson’s piece, Arsenal do not match up well against Bayern, a deficiency that describes a Champions League failure that’s been present throughout most of the Arsène Wenger era. With a subtle layer of dogma to their approach, Arsenal’s spells of domestic success have been coupled with the feeling they play as an aesthetically superior game to their opponents. Tellingly, the one time they reached the Champions League final under Wenger, Arsenal lost to Barcelona, a rare club that’s more dogmatic in their aestheticists’ ethic than the Gunners.
Wenger’s pursuit of such stylist values has waned in recent years, but this is still a team that doesn’t feature an elite presence in defensive midfield (even if Mathieu Flamini‘s return has been a boost). The defense features a series of value buys, and their goalkeeper couples promising performances with ones that hint he’ll never be an elite keeper. The overall philosophy describes an approach that sees relatively little difference between elite defenders and ones which represent better value. While that may be an empirically justifiable view, it’s also one that highlights scrutiny when Arsenal fails.
One of those failures occurred 11 days ago at Anfield, when Arsenals’ decent-not-stellar defense was exposed by Liverpool. In the process, the lack of a strong defensive midfielder was evident (Mathieu Flamini was suspended) while the remainder of the midfield failed to match up against the upstart Reds. While Arsenal has since rebounded from that disappointment, a vulnerable defense led by Laurent Koscielny and Per Merstsacker will still be stressed to contain the reigning European Champions.
The task will be easier in the absence of Franck Ribery, with Bayern’s best attacker sidelined as he recovers from surgery. Unfortunately, Bayern’s depth means the team will still likely start Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Müller, Mario Götze and Arjen Robben – a quartet capable of replicating last year’s three-goal performance in North London. With Lahm in midfield and Bastian Schweinsteiger returning to health, Bayern have more than enough talent to compensate of the absence of their Ballon d’Or finalist.
The one saving grace Arsenal has is their performance in their last meeting against Bayern. Last March, Arsenal produced a 2-0 result at the Allianz Arena, pulling them even with the Germans in the teams’ Round of 16 match ups. Away goals eventually sent Bayern through, but for Arsenal, the result could help create some momentum to carry into Wednesday’s game.
But it’s going to take more than momentum to derail the consensus best team in Europe. With the addition of players like Mesut Özil, Arsenal is certainly better than last year. But that’s unlikely to be enough to overcome Bayern Munich’s quest for a second straight title.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:55 AM EDT
Highlights and recaps from the seven-match night in Major League Soccer.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:49 AM EDT
Alan Gordon’s late winner moves LA even with Seattle at the top of Major League Soccer.
Sep 20, 2014, 10:25 PM EDT
Arsenal’s manager lauded his team’s concentration in its 3-0 win at Villa Park.
Sep 20, 2014, 9:27 PM EDT
Bradley Wright-Phillips is closing in on history after his season’s third hat trick.
Sep 20, 2014, 8:02 PM EDT
Can Chelsea stay perfect by beating Man City? Will United win again? How will Spurs, Everton do after Europa League action? Super Sunday is upon us.
Sep 20, 2014, 7:52 PM EDT
Arsenal became the first to break through Aston Villa, while Sam Allardyce’s plans came to fruition in East London.
Sep 20, 2014, 7:16 PM EDT
The Timbers claim fifth in the Western Conference after another decisive win over their rivals.
Sep 20, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
Thierry Henry will be center stage as two teams recovering from mid-week commitments meet at Red Bull Arena.
Sep 20, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
Portland’s brightest executed a sublime volley to give his team a first half lead.
Sep 20, 2014, 5:07 PM EDT
QPR manager credited Potters’ solidity while extolling the value of his team’s point.
Sep 20, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
The Liverpool boss didn’t see enough dynamic play from his squad after a mid-week UEFA Champions League match against Ludogorets.
Sep 20, 2014, 4:33 PM EDT
Former DC United player Pablo Hernandez can take as many bows as he’d like after his stunning backheel volley put one past Atletico Madrid.
Sep 20, 2014, 4:23 PM EDT
NBCSNs Major League Soccer doubleheader kicks off at 5 p.m. ET in Oregon. Here are your lineups and streaming information:
Sep 20, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT
Roughly-translated, it said, “A year of rage to be great again.” That’s good stuff, and the noisy crowd made it even better.
Sep 20, 2014, 3:37 PM EDT
There were several eyebrow raisers on Matchday 4 even before Sunday’s Rhein Derby and a big Wolfsburg match versus Bayer Leverkusen.
Sep 20, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
Cameroon will host the ACON for the second time in their history in 2019.
Sep 20, 2014, 2:57 PM EDT
Recaps, videos, reaction and analysis from Saturday’s six games in the PL.
Sep 20, 2014, 2:26 PM EDT
Brendan Rodgers side lost its third match of the young season and Sam Allardyce’s West Ham United leapfrogged the Reds with a Saturday win.
Sep 20, 2014, 2:17 PM EDT
Saints are flying high early in the season, as preseason predictions of relegation seem to be well wide of the mark.
Sep 20, 2014, 1:50 PM EDT
Can Welbeck and Ozil click and become Arsenal’s main offensive weapons?
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