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.
Mar 31, 2015, 9:26 PM EDT
As bizarre as this is to read, Michael Bradley didn’t register a single helper for the States until 2011. In the Klinsmann era, he has 12.
Mar 31, 2015, 8:07 PM EDT
It was out of character for Altidore, who hadn’t received a red card for club or country since he was with AZ Alkmaar in 2012.
Mar 31, 2015, 7:17 PM EDT
With the deal Porto have turned another big profit. See this incredible list below, as the Portuguese club giants have made close to $423 million.
Mar 31, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT
It was a busy couple days for friendlies outside of the draw between Switzerland and the USMNT, with some MLSers doing work in the mix.
Mar 31, 2015, 5:27 PM EDT
Tottenham Hotspur could have new, improved digs as soon as the 2018-19 season, according to the BBC.
Mar 31, 2015, 4:38 PM EDT
Though Wayne Rooney had a series of good chances including a struck crossbar, it was the Tottenham man who beat Gianluigi Buffon to tie things up.
Mar 31, 2015, 3:47 PM EDT
What would the price tag be for the German star if he skipped Dortmund for Old Trafford?
Mar 31, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT
Here are three points and a bonus reminder from the Yanks’ final match until April 15 in Texas against Mexico.
Mar 31, 2015, 2:01 PM EDT
Another late goal denies the USMNT victory.
Mar 31, 2015, 1:07 PM EDT
Shea does his best Gareth Bale impression.
Mar 31, 2015, 12:49 PM EDT
Messi’s right foot is still giving him some bother.
Mar 31, 2015, 11:16 AM EDT
Klinsmann makes changes to team who lost to Denmark, switches up formation.
Mar 31, 2015, 10:56 AM EDT
Could Di Maria be on his way out of Old Trafford after just one season?
Mar 31, 2015, 10:02 AM EDT
Plenty of intriguing questions surrounding the USMNT picture ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Swiss.
Mar 31, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT
Top European teams will get extra revenue from Champions League, Europa League from next season.
Mar 31, 2015, 8:45 AM EDT
Three out of five ain’t bad, right?
Mar 31, 2015, 7:57 AM EDT
Messi tops list of forwards in Europe.
USMNT vs Switzerland preview: Last time they met, Michael Bradley scored the winner with a full head of hair
Mar 30, 2015, 11:07 PM EDT
Maurice Edu and Danny Szetela helped the goal get going, and Bradley was barely more than 20 years old.
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