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.
Oct 31, 2014, 11:10 AM EDT
Here’s how PST’s editor and lead writer sees things panning out this weekend.
Oct 31, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
We are a quarter of the way through the season. Scary, right? Anyway, here’s our latest rankings of power.
Oct 31, 2014, 10:21 AM EDT
“Some weren’t in the European finals, some weren’t even domestic champions,” said Jesus. Others were, and weren’t nominated. We’ll give out some props.
Oct 31, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT
Suddenly-hot Newcastle United put their three-match win streak on the line when they host Liverpool on Saturday morning.
Oct 31, 2014, 8:40 AM EDT
Bradley Wright-Phillips netted twice in the final 13 minutes and Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes was left to explain the loss.
Oct 31, 2014, 7:47 AM EDT
It’s difficult to imagine him playing in a different shirt, but one-club men grow more rare by the season.
Oct 31, 2014, 12:13 AM EDT
After FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls defeated their opponents in the first two games of the MLS playoffs, the postseason picture exists in its beginning stages.
Oct 30, 2014, 11:37 PM EDT
Robbie Keane stands ready to play for his international side right after the LA Galaxy’s playoff contests vs. Real Salt Lake.
Oct 30, 2014, 10:20 PM EDT
Final: New York Red Bulls 2, Sporting KC 1
Oct 30, 2014, 9:38 PM EDT
Men in Blazers preview Round 10, most notably the Manchester derby.
Oct 30, 2014, 8:36 PM EDT
Fernando Torres, expanding on his decision to leave Chelsea on loan, says he wanted to “feel important.”
Oct 30, 2014, 7:21 PM EDT
West Ham boss Sam Allardyce is happy for the recent triumphs of criticized Newcastle manager Alan Pardew.
Oct 30, 2014, 6:35 PM EDT
Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney will be available in the upcoming Manchester derby following his three-match suspension.
Oct 30, 2014, 5:56 PM EDT
Action taken against alleged racist actions in the Scottish Premiership.
Oct 30, 2014, 4:44 PM EDT
Sturridge on injury woes: “Maybe it’s my body type, maybe it’s hereditary.”
Oct 30, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT
A young Messi was eyed by Juventus in 2005, says Russia manager Frank Capello.
Oct 30, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT
How has the soccer world (via Twitter) responded to the news? With a mixture of interest and humor.
Oct 30, 2014, 2:49 PM EDT
In what will be called “Los Angeles Football Club” as it goes through its branding, MLS has announced that L.A. has officially been awarded another team.
Oct 30, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT
So who do you have tonight: the Red Bulls or the champs?
Oct 30, 2014, 1:35 PM EDT
Mike Prindiville and Joe Prince-Wright join Jenna Corrado to discuss the Manchester Derby between Manchester United and Manchester City.
- Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton the standouts 0
- Premier League Power Rankings: Will Chelsea ever lose, Burnley ever win? 0
- Premier League Preview: Newcastle United vs. Liverpool 0
- Steven Gerrard will play somewhere next season, Liverpool deal or not 1
- Los Angeles officially given new MLS team; Magic Johnson, Vincent Tan among investors 4
- PST Extra: Getting you ready for The Manchester Derby (video) 0