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.
Jul 26, 2014, 8:59 AM EDT
West Ham may be regretting their trip to Australia and New Zealand, while Newcastle are honoring fans’ memory with wins.
Jul 26, 2014, 8:06 AM EDT
Is the Chelsea manager gearing up for a season of back-and-forth with new United boss Louis van Gaal?
Jul 26, 2014, 7:13 AM EDT
The Brazilian will have a chance to prove himself once more, challenging Rob Green for the starting goalkeeper spot for QPR.
Jul 26, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Two goals in the first half hour allowed the Rapids to cruise at DSG Park.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:35 PM EDT
The 26-year-old will try to improve an attack that averaged fewer than one goal per game last season.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:11 PM EDT
Gonzalez resumed full training on Friday with the hope of starting in Seattle.
Jul 25, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT
Roberto Martínez is ready to spend close to $35 million to secure the 21-year-old’s return.
Jul 25, 2014, 7:44 PM EDT
Medical with Gunners and fee agreement has Chambers on the verge of departing for North London.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
LCL injury could sideline former Southampton star for six weeks.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:04 PM EDT
23-year-old brings another ball-winner to the Dynamo midfield.
Jul 25, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
One of Alex Ferguson’s most notorious transfers has found a new home with Benfica.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Five years of development by the Blues ends with the 23-year-old’s departure.
Jul 25, 2014, 3:11 PM EDT
From Sanchez and Luiz to Suarez and Sidwell, a breakdown of the top names to have come and gone from the Premier League.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:28 PM EDT
If anyone spots Will.I.Am with Willian, let us know.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:39 PM EDT
Things are looking dicey at Southampton, where yet another player is set to skip town.
Jul 25, 2014, 12:51 PM EDT
A one-year move and mutual respect between the coach and player could make this a relatively-shrewd move for the Blues.
Jul 25, 2014, 12:09 PM EDT
Jerry Bengston is going on loan to Belgrano, while New England president Brian Bilello is working on a number of attacking options.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:24 AM EDT
Dynamo president Chris Canetti made waves when he said the team would be adding to the DaMarcus Beasley signing soon with a World Cup starter.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:11 AM EDT
World Cup final, so what? Diego Maradona is not pleased with the way his nation played in Brazil.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT
Barring something wild, young Eliaquim Mangala is taking his French national team talent to Manchester.
- Everton willing to set club transfer record to bring Lukaku back 3
- Arsenal on the verge of signing Calum Chambers from Southampton 1
- Knee injury will keep Lallana out of Liverpool’s Premier League opener 0
- A quick guide to who’s come and gone from Premier League teams 2
- Didier Drogba has officially rejoined Jose Mourinho at Chelsea 4
- FIFA says World Cup will stay in Russia, “can achieve positive change” 9