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.
May 23, 2015, 12:37 AM EDT
Final: LA Galaxy 1-0 Houston Dynamo
May 22, 2015, 10:31 PM EDT
Final: Columbus Crew 2-2 Chicago Fire
May 22, 2015, 9:52 PM EDT
PSG is willing to dish out the cash to bring Ronaldo to France. The problem? He would have to leave his built-up glory at Madrid behind him.
May 22, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
PST’s Joe-Prince Wright discussed the final relegation battle between Hull City and Newcastle United.
May 22, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT
Mancini: “If we find players with the right characteristics, we’ll be able to improve the existing players in our squad as well. It won’t be easy….”
May 22, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT
Ivory Coast manager Hervé Renard is leaving on good terms and with a new challenge ahead of him at Lille.
May 22, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT
Mexico will have a roster full of their talent from Europe for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Despite calling himself the “godfather” of women’s soccer, Sepp Blatter didn’t recognize Alex Morgan
May 22, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
FIFA president Blatter called himself the “godfather” of women’s soccer earlier this month, yet he couldn’t recognize one of the biggest stars in the game.
May 22, 2015, 4:40 PM EDT
Preview of Chelsea-Sunderland match on Championship Sunday, available to watch on NBCSN beginning at 10 a.m. ET.
May 22, 2015, 3:54 PM EDT
As usual, several Americans are ready to take the pitch in Europe this weekend.
May 22, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
If the Magpies win they will survive on the final day. Watch them host West Ham live on USA, online via Live Extra, 10 a.m. ET.
May 22, 2015, 2:52 PM EDT
Are the Red Bulls willing to take a risk on Osvaldo to bolster their attacking options?
May 22, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT
Can the Tigers pull off a “great escape” on the final day? Watch live on NBC at 10 a.m. ET on Sunday.
May 22, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
The Red Devils boss is confident DDG will be around next season.
May 22, 2015, 12:40 PM EDT
Here’s how and where to watch every PL game on the final day of the season.
May 22, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
In his latest blog, our man in the PL gives us a glimpse of what life is like at Stoke’s training ground.
May 22, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
It’s that time of year again ladies and gents. Get ready for the rumors regarding European veterans heading to MLS.
May 22, 2015, 9:56 AM EDT
The Brazilian defender wants to put the record straight. David, over to you…
May 22, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
After already winning two trophies this season, Chelsea cleaned up once again.
May 22, 2015, 8:20 AM EDT
After Sterling’s agent says his client will not sign a new deal at Liverpool, Reds boss is adamant he will remain at Anfield.
- Premier League Preview: Hull City vs. Manchester United 0
- TV SCHEDULE: Premier League finale – 10 games, 10 channels on Championship Sunday 0
- Geoff Cameron takes us behind-the-scenes at Stoke City 1
- Brendan Rodgers insists Raheem Sterling will remain at Liverpool 0
- US Open Cup draw: Sounders-Timbers, NYCFC-NY Cosmos highlight possible 4th-round clashes 1
- Agent: Sterling wouldn’t sign new Liverpool deal, even for $1.4 million a week 6