Arsenal 1-3 Bayern Munich: Tactical Analysis of a Bavarian Battering
Arsenal succumbed to a damaging 3-1 home loss to Bayern Munich on Tuesday night, leaving their hopes of advancing to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals hanging by a thread.
The Gunners enjoyed a 20-minute renaissance in the second half but only managed to carve out one real chance which fell to Olivier Giroud, and their consolatory goal was a product of a corner that shouldn't have been awarded.
Let's take a look at how this game was won.
Jupp Heynckes fielded his standard, safe 4-2-3-1 formation, while Arsenal tried another peculiar 4-3-3-esque shape.
The midfield battle was frenetic as Jack Wilshere carried his side on his back going forward, but Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez never looked too troubled.
Arsene Wenger opted to start Theo Walcott up front on his own.
The thinking behind it was obvious—Daniel van Buyten is slow, so if Walcott can isolate him it's a blitzkrieg waiting to happen.
But the England international, as I have discussed a few times in the past, is a bit of a luxury player. Being so one-dimensional, he can't force his own way into the game—someone has to bring him into the proceedings. To do that you need to get your foot on the ball and dictate things, and the Gunners stood no chance of doing that with die Bayern looking imperious early on.
With no effective outlet up front and no relief, Arsenal effectively hemmed themselves into their own half and invited Bayern Munich to play. Philipp Lahm and co. obliged.
The challenge was there for Arsenal to play themselves out of trouble, but misplaced passes and sloppy decision-making hindered them at every turn.
The debate over who would start at left-back for Arsenal raged on for weeks. Andre Santos was loaned out, Kieran Gibbs injured and Nacho Monreal cup-tied. The common consensus was as follows:
Thomas Vermaelen will play there, but the Gunners are royally screwed.
True for the left side, but equally true for the right.
In a tactical glance before the game kicked off, I identified Bayern's superior threats in the wide positions and their penchant for hitting the byline and causing confusion.
Both Bacary Sagna and Vermaelen had torrid nights, with Franck Ribery, Thomas Mueller and Lahm gaining ground on the touchline.
Die Bayern's first and third goals were from crosses from the right-hand side, and on multiple occasions the movement of Mario Mandzukic flummoxed the Gunners' back line.
Questions remain of Sagna. He's a far cry from the player who struck fear into opposing players two-three years ago. Is it time to get rid considering his contract is coming up for expiry?
A Holding Pivot to Envy
We saw a prototypical 4-2-3-1 formation with a fine midfield holding pivot doggedly protecting a solid back line from Heynckes' men.
Dante and van Buyten are capable defenders, but Arsenal were especially up against it with Schweinsteiger and Martinez in such disciplined form.
For anyone wondering how a pair of deep-lying midfielders should operate, this was a lesson to behold. They never strayed too far apart from each other (approximately 10-15 yards at all times), and behaved almost as if they were attached with an elastic band.
How do you break through this? It's tough, and like so many teams this season, the Gunners opted to test the wide areas instead.
Unfortunately for Wenger's charges, the flanks were solid. Ribery is tracking back for the first season in his life and neither Alaba or Lahm show the same weaknesses defending that other full-backs do.
This was always likely to be a step too far for Arsenal and a slow start wrecked their chances of causing an upset.
It was hardly vintage Bayern, and much like Juventus did at Celtic Park, they did what they had to do. They take three away goals back to the Allianz Arena.
Pressure mounts on Wenger's shoulders, but these players were never up to the task.
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