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 26, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT
Here’s three things we learned from the Emirates after a lively London derby.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:55 PM EDT
There were few good chances as Arsenal could not find a breakthrough and Chelsea opens up a 10-point table lead.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:26 PM EDT
Despite playing 30 minutes after a dangerous clash, Oscar has been sent to the hospital.
Apr 26, 2015, 11:43 AM EDT
Torino picked up its first win over Juventus in 20 years, but the fans kept it from being a truly happy day.
Apr 26, 2015, 10:29 AM EDT
There is no featured striker on the field for Chelsea, with Jose Mourinho instead selecting six midfielders to interchange.
Apr 26, 2015, 10:20 AM EDT
Manchester United had nothing to offer as Everton won its third straight against the Red Devils at Goodison Park.
Apr 26, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
The PFA have announced their team of the season. But should these 10 players have been involved?
Apr 26, 2015, 9:18 AM EDT
The likely title winners took up over half of the team of the season, marking their domination.
Apr 26, 2015, 8:49 AM EDT
Fans clashed with each other and with police as objects became weapons and smoke filled the pitch.
Apr 26, 2015, 7:47 AM EDT
Marouane Fellaini returns to his former club on a much higher note than last season’s visit.
Apr 26, 2015, 7:00 AM EDT
Two big games are coming your way on Sunday. Here’s what to expect.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:44 AM EDT
It was a bad night to be a goalkeeper. A really, really bad night.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:36 AM EDT
Winning on the road in MLS is always impressive. Doing it 3,000 miles from home and with a five-man bench is downright remarkable.
Apr 25, 2015, 10:55 PM EDT
MLS Game of the Year? Probably. It had a little bit of everything, including some amazing goals you HAVE to see.
Apr 25, 2015, 9:42 PM EDT
Good luck stopping the Revs, now that they’ve got a head of steam behind them. Another Cup run looks likely.
Apr 25, 2015, 9:33 PM EDT
Crew SC’s four-headed attacking monster completely shredded the Union’s defense. The Black and Gold are very for real.
Apr 25, 2015, 7:44 PM EDT
As long as Barcelona keep winning, the La Liga title is theirs. The way they’re going at the moment, they might just win out.
Apr 25, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT
With four teams separated by two points for the final relegation place, it’s becoming an absolute dogfight. The 2 Robbies break it down.
Apr 25, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
When in a relegation dogfight, win any way you can. That’s the message from Nigel Pearson, and that’s what Leicester City have done.
Apr 25, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Play poorly and win, or play well and lose? You can’t always have it both ways, which benefitted Man City on Saturday.
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