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 1, 2014, 12:42 AM EDT
Roundup of MLS action this weekend.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT
Roundup of football transfers across Europe today.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Real Madrid manager insisted that his squad just lost focus on Sunday when they were upset by Real Sociedad.
Aug 31, 2014, 8:24 PM EDT
Darren Fletcher isn’t perturbed by Manchester United’s super-early season struggles.
Aug 31, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT
Jermain Defoe has been linked away from Toronto FC, with a possible return back to England.
Aug 31, 2014, 6:18 PM EDT
Real Madrid didn’t display their standard victorious level of play as Real Sociedad shocked Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
Aug 31, 2014, 5:22 PM EDT
D.C. United keeps strong at the head of the Eastern Conference, defeating the New York Red Bulls, 2-0.
Aug 31, 2014, 4:25 PM EDT
Quick recap of the Premier League’s Sunday matches.
Aug 31, 2014, 3:38 PM EDT
Geoff Cameron has withdrawn from the United States’ latest roster prepped for the Czech Republic match.
Aug 31, 2014, 2:53 PM EDT
DC United hopes to fend off Bradley Wright-Phillips and company in the Atlantic Cup.
Aug 31, 2014, 2:39 PM EDT
With things not going as planned, Nelsen is out.
Aug 31, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT
Despite Yaya Sanogo’s disappointing performance against Leicester City, Wenger may sit on his squad.
Aug 31, 2014, 1:33 PM EDT
After spending a career on the bench at Manchester United, he’s going to another club where he’ll likely be a backup.
Aug 31, 2014, 12:57 PM EDT
Leo Ulloa hit back at Arsenal’s early goal and Leicester held on strong against a tired and wasteful Arsenal.
Aug 31, 2014, 12:23 PM EDT
It appears the usually erratic, angry, and impulsive Mario Balotelli is nowhere to be found, and the Liverpool manager is to thank.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:33 AM EDT
With Torres, Lukaku, and Ba all gone and Costa proving injury prone, Remy comes in as cover at Stamford Bridge.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT
Yaya Sanogo starts up front in place of the injured Olivier Giroud. Esteban Cambiasso is on the bench for Leicester.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT
Aston Villa were bright nearly the whole match but struggled to fend off Hull late in a close victory.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:22 AM EDT
Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard both scored as Liverpool rocked Spurs yet again in London.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:53 AM EDT
Torino continues to sell off last year’s successful attack force for a big profit.
- Toronto FC fire Ryan Nelsen thanks to disappointing position and disparaging comments 1
- Leicester City 1-1 Arsenal: Home side holds strong for draw 2
- Done deal: Chelsea sign Loic Remy from QPR 0
- Tottenham 0-3 Liverpool: Familiar scenes as Reds storm Spurs in London 3
- Premier League Sunday Preview: Tottenham host Liverpool, Arsenal face Leicester 0
- Revolution feeling a Jermaine Jones boost after unloading on Toronto 0