Champions League Tactical Analysis: Arsenal vs Bayern

With the Champions League knockout stages moving to its second round of matches, we take a closer look at Arsenal's tactics before their game German giants Bayern Munich.....
As people still recover from the euphoria that surrounded the epic clash between Real Madrid and Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, they will come to realise that there is another weekend of exciting matches lined in the second round of matches. Arsenal will gear up to face the challenge of German side Bayern Munich when they come calling for their first leg clash at the Emirates Stadium in London. While Arsenal's form has hit roadblocks along the way, Bayern have been nothing short of clinical in their quest to end Dortmund's dominance in the Bundesliga in recent times and look to atone for the cruel loss to Chelsea in the Champions League final of 2012 which was played in their own backyard.


How Arsenal Attack
How Bayern Defend

Olivier Giroud who arrived in the summer from Montpellier will have a key role to play as he seeks to hold the ball up at the top end of the pitch as the lone target striker. He will have support on the flanks from Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott who will look to make darting runs forward and try to get crosses into the box for the Frenchman who will have the main goal-scoring onus. However, both also have the tendency to drift in from the flanks, get past the opposition full-backs and take shots at goal when presented with the opportunity. Spanish wizard Santi Cazorla will have the major creative responsibilities and will look to orchestrate play in midfield and create opportunities for the frontmen.

Jack Wilshere will most probably partner Cazorla in the middle of the park and both will take turns to attack, as both are adept at making late runs into the box to get on the end of balls as well as delivering that defence-threading killer pass, as was on display on several occasions in the first half against Sunderland. These two provide a different injection of pace and incisiveness to Arsenal's passing in the final third, which was sorely missing in the FA Cup home defeat to Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, when they started on the bench.

When most teams sit deep and defend with two banks of four at the Emirates, the Gunners have often found it difficult to break down such resistance with their intricate play. However, they are likely to have a bit more space in attack, against Bayern as the Germans are not goal-shy themselves.

Abou Diaby will be the deepest of the midfielders and he will be tasked with winning the ball back and distributing the ball to the likes of Cazorla, Wilshere and the two flank-men to kick-start quick counter-attacks. Over-lapping full-backs are a key feature of the Gunners’ attacks, but with Bayern’s potency and pace on the counter both Vermaelen and Sagna will most likely take turns to bomb forward, with the other sitting back to drop into the space left behind.  Centre-back Koscielny has also shown the willingness to get beyond the halfway line but he might be a bit more cautious this time around given Mertesacker’s lack of pace at the back. Most of the Gunners’ joy in attack will have to come from open play as they rarely a threat from set-pieces.

Bayern Munich have one of the most complete squads in the whole of Europe with two world class players for every position.

Jupp Heynckes is a staunch advocate of the 4-2-3-1 system which will see the double pivot of Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger protecting an already formidable backline of Phillip Lahm, Dante, Daniel van Buyten and David Alaba.
What is a highlight of Bayern's use of the 4-2-3-1 is the willingness of the wingers namely Thomas Muller and Franck Ribery to track back when the opposition side is on the counter.
With Martinez sitting a lot deeper than Schweinsteiger, it adds an extra level of protection to the centre-halves. With Kroos and Mandzukic being the furthermost players when Bayern are defending, it just makes it harder for the opposition to find avenues to attack, be it down the flanks or through the middle.

Aerially Arsenal will find it very tough against the likes of van Buyten, Martinez and Dante who have all won an average of 2 aerial duels per game. This will significantly nullify the aerial threat the likes of Olivier Giroud, Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny bring during set-pieces.

With Arsenal preferring to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible, Bayern will look to keep their defensive shape intact and restrict the Gunners' attacking trio from opening up channels to Manuel Neuer's goal.

How Arsenal defend
How Bayern Attack
Even though the Gunners are at home, the visiting Bavarians will go into this game as favourites. Therefore, a solid defensive performance and if possible, a clean sheet is a must for the hosts. Arsenal’s problem’s at the back have been well-detailed and as such they are unlikely to adopt such a high line they do for most games. After a solid start to the season the frailties of old have come back to haunt them again and they will have to eradicate those individual mistakes and inefficiencies if they are to emerge with a result on Tuesday night.

One of Arsenal’s biggest challenges will come on the flanks. As such, Vermaelen and Sagna will have their hands full with Ribery and Muller who can both swap wings throughout the game. Therefore, Walcott and Podolski will be expected to do their fair share of tracking back to assist the full-backs.

Additionally, Diaby’s role takes on even greater importance as he will be required to destroy opposition forays and act as the screen in front of the back four. He will have support at hand from Wilshere and even Cazorla in times of need and they will provide great energy and commitment. Meanwhile, Giroud will act as the primary out-ball to relieve the pressure, assisted by Cazoerla.

As the centre-backs Koscielny and Mertesacker will have to negate the threat of lanky Croatian Mario Mandzukic, they would also have to assist the full-backs on their side on occasion.

Arsenal are also at a distinct disadvantage in height. With that being the case,  German international Mertesacker’s presence will give them a shout in the aerial exchanges and in dealing with balls into the box.

Gunners boss Wenger knows that his side are particularly vulnerable on set pieces, given their approach of zonal marking.  With that said, the two centre-backs and Diaby will have a crucial role in ensuring this does not prove to be their Achilles Heel and Giroud will also look to assist in this effort.
An attacking quartet of Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Franck Ribery and Mario Mandzukic is arguably one of the best and most potent attacks in Europe.

Bayern's 4-2-3-1 system allows Lahm and Alaba to make overlapping runs with the wingers Muller and Ribery which puts immense pressure on the opposition full-backs which accounts to nearly 74% of all of Bayern's attacks.

With Schweinsteiger and Martinez serving as defensive midfielders with the ability to link play from the defence to the attacking third, Bayern open up new avenues to attack from all areas of the pitch.

Toni Kroos will be the central playmaker to feed Mario Mandzukic with key passes along the ground. The youngster also tends to interchange passes with Mandzukic to make more runs into the 18-yard box.
Mandzukic sometimes drifts to wider positions to allow Ribery and Muller to make inward runs into the penalty area.

With the aerial threat of Dante, Mandzukic, van Buyten and Martinez, Bayern carry a sizeable threat during set-pieces which makes Arsenal's task all the more difficult.


Strengths –

Arsenal: The Emirates Stadium outfit know no other way but to attack and being at home the supporters will expect them to take the game to their German opponents. Giroud is beginning to show his class after having had a slow start to life in English football. Wenger will be looking for Cazorla’s experience to rise to the fore in such a big game, as the Spaniard seems to have re-discovered his old self after a recent quite spell. Elsewhere, Theo Walcott has been in the form of his life and as the Gunners’ top-scorer this season he has a point to prove after just having penned a new long-term contract.

Bayern Munich: Bayern Munich can easily boast of the one best scoring records in the whole of Europe. With 82 goals scored in 31 games played in all competitions, which implies an average of 2.64 goals per game. With Jupp Heynckes spoilt for choice in choosing his front four, it will surely mean a lot to ponder about for Arsene Wenger as to how his defence will stop this Bayern Munich side when it hits top gear. With an emphasis on holding on to the ball, Bayern are experts at wearing down the opposition through patient build-up play and extraordinary workrate off the ball which is proven by the fact that close of 79% of Bayern's play is centred around the middle and attacking third of the pitch. A quality attack is supplemented by a formidable defence in any top side and Bayern possess precisely that. With a defence that has conceded a miserly 14 goals so far in the season, it is a testament to the defensive stability that the Germans have that many sides in Europe are still looking to breach.

Weaknesses –

Arsenal:  Unsurprisingly, most of Arsenal’s weaknesses lie in defence. January recruit left-back Nacho Monreal is cup-tied having featured for Malaga in the group stages and Kieran Gibbs is nursing an injury. So, skipper and regular centre-back Vermaelen is likely to move to the left. Although the Belgian can play in that position, it is not his first preference and hence he remains vulnerable. Diaby is Wenger’s choice for the defensive role in midfield but he has also experimented with Arteta and Ramsey in that position. However, none of three have looked convincing against quality opposition. Meanwhile, questions still remain over Wojejch Szczesny’s temperament in goal, particularly in pressure matches.

Bayern Munich: No side is without its Achilles Heel. Formidable a squad as they may be, Bayern's players are not very comfortable when the opposition players run at them with pace which is precisely what they will encounter when they come up against the likes of Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski. With the industry of Jack Wilshere and craft of Santi Cazorla in midfield, Bayern's defence will have to be on their toes despite their impressive defensive numbers in Europe. Another possible way to keep the Bayern threat at bay is the fact that the attacking quartet have found themselves in offside positions more than they would like. Mandzukic and Muller were found guilty on a number of occasions of being caught in the opposition's offside traps as they possess an average of 1 offside infraction per game. Arsene Wenger will no doubt keep this on the back of his mind as he attempts to use every method in the book to keep Bayern from scoring.

Arsenal Key Player: Jack Wilshere
Bayern Key Player: Bastian Schweinsteiger

It was a close choice between Cazorla and Wilshere  but we have gone for the young Englishmen who has been the talk of the town lately and for good reason.  After the departure of several star-names over the last two seasons, Wilshere has seamlessly picked up the mantle of Arsenal’s marquee man. The midfielder has stormed back into action after a spell on the sidelines and could well be the man turn the tide towards Wenger’s men.

In this game Wilshere will have both attacking and defensive responsibilities. His ability to run at players with the ball at his feet will provide Arsenal with directness, purpose and drive that they certainly miss when he’s not clicking. Moreover, he also has the finesse and the eye to pick out that defence splitting pass and is equally clinical in front of goal. Going the other way, Wilshere‘s energy is key to the north Londoners and his combative and committed tackling gives the Gunners that much-needed steel in  the middle of the park.
With an attack that promises goals to Bayern and a defence that does not do the same for the opposition, it may seem that any defender or attacker may be the key to tilting the tie in the German's favour.

However, Schweinsteiger is the player in this Bayern lineup who strings together moves from the defence to the attack whilst maintaining his side's defensive shape. 5 goals, 2 assists and a passing accuracy of 87.6%, he is vital to Bayern's functioning as a complete unit. In addition to his set-piece taking ability, the Bayern youth product will be the difference in helping his side settle the tie.

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