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.
Apr 25, 2014, 2:36 AM EDT
Our new, weekly look at one of MLS’s awards. It’s too early to vote, but it’s never to early to take note.
Apr 25, 2014, 1:06 AM EDT
Neymar isn’t among the world’s elites. Not that it will matter come June.
Apr 25, 2014, 12:08 AM EDT
The league’s two deepest attacks meet in Salt Lake, while Kinnear, Porter try to end slumps in Houston.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:58 PM EDT
Seattle boss lets it slip that the CONCACAF Champions League reward could go away. Good.
Apr 24, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT
Hernan Bernardello and Kelyn Rowe also among the big potential absences from this weekend’s action.
Apr 24, 2014, 7:34 PM EDT
Michael Bradley’s sidelined for a week with a “nerve issue” in his foot. He and Jermain Defoe are expected to be ready for TFC’s next game on May 3.
Apr 24, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Tyreso is Leeds. It’s Anzhi, it’s Málaga. And it has a chance to win a European title before potentially closing its doors.
Apr 24, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT
After praising Neymar, Scolari inadvertently lets some of the names on his final roster slip:
Apr 24, 2014, 5:25 PM EDT
The PST Extra lads break down United’s options, as the Red Devils prepare for life after Moyes:
Apr 24, 2014, 5:12 PM EDT
A late goal from Benfica gave the Portuguese champions a win over Juventus, while Sevilla impressed at home against Valencia.
Apr 24, 2014, 4:32 PM EDT
Valdes on his hatred of being a ‘keeper plus top tips to succeed:
Apr 24, 2014, 3:58 PM EDT
Real Madrid star takes what’s become an obligatory spot for soccer on the list.
Apr 24, 2014, 3:42 PM EDT
With the final few weeks of the season upon us, nothing is settled at the top or the bottom:
Apr 24, 2014, 3:03 PM EDT
This is your Matchweek 35 primer to all the scenarios in the title chase, European qualification and relegation.
Apr 24, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Assuming a deal could be worked out, Diskerud’s fluid style of play would fit nicely within the attacking philosophy of Jason Kreis.
Apr 24, 2014, 12:40 PM EDT
Now with Moyes out and Ryan Giggs in as interim manager, the banner has been removed from Old Trafford.
Manchester United have two transfer deals provisionally in place – Cavani, Shaw, Fabregas all on radar
Apr 24, 2014, 11:58 AM EDT
This is all the calm before the storm that will be Manchester United’s summer of 2014.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT
If van Gaal is appointed United boss, Jose Mourinho will have some competition for best post-match sound in the 2014/15 Premier League.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT
For Chelsea, the Liverpool match represents, well, a headache, apparently.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:17 AM EDT
So bad you have to see it. That’s the only was to describe Spain’s official World Cup anthem.
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