Tactical Battles That Will Shape Arsenal's Clash with Bayern Munich

Stefan BienkowskiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2014

Arsenal's Santi Cazorla, bottom right, celebrates his goal with Olivier Giroud, bottom left, and Mesut Ozil as Southampton's goalkeeper Artur Boruc holds his arms out in frustration during the English Premier League soccer match between Southampton and Arsenal at St Mary's stadium in Southampton, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Bayern Munich travel to London on Wednesday night in a tricky first leg Champions League clash with English Premier League side Arsenal.

Yet what this clash of the titans should ultimately offer, aside from the who's who of world-class talent on show, is a tactical battle between two highly trained sides led by two coaches who spend most of their time in front of tactics boards and data graphs. 

This will be a fight to the death that should resemble a game of chess more than any sporting event. 


 Rafinha vs Podolski 

The most notable weakness in any potential back line that Pep Guardiola opts for on Wednesday night in Brazilian full-back Rafinha. 


Although the right-back has done relatively well throughout the campaign, considering the exile he endured last season under Jupp Heynckes, he is a limited player in a side full of superstars. His form in the Bundesliga would suggest otherwise, but in truth he is coasting in a league that is usually too fearful to properly attack Bayern with the same intensity that we hope to see from Arsenal in the coming clash. 

Of course the coach may well stick Philipp Lahm back to his old position, as we saw against Manchester City in the final game of the group stages, but if he doesn't, that will undoubtedly have to be Arsene Wenger's key target to attack. 

What Rafinha struggles to comprehend in most games is the huge gaps he often leaves behind as he charges forward. This may work in the Bundesliga, but against a side like Arsenal with intelligent players such as Lukas Podolski, who will happily exploit the space on his left wing throughout the game, it could pose as a huge weakness for Bayern. 


Ozil vs Lahm

If we can assume that Rafinha will indeed keep his spot at right-back, then it is safe to suggest that Guardiola will employ Lahm as his defensive midfielder in the hope of keeping Arsenal's potent attack at bay. 

Of Arsenal's array of attacking midfielders the one that'll bother Bayern most is likely to be the English side's own German playmaker, Mesut Ozil. And entrusted with keeping the former Real Madrid man quiet is Lahm. What a matchup. 


Yet what could trouble the Bayern defensive midfielder is the manner in which Ozil tends to drift from one wing to the next. Despite being deployed as a standard No. 10, upon which his main goal should be to linger around the centre of the box, the German star tends to offer his services out wide and allow space for other players to attack the box. 

In a sense, Lahm's plan may not in fact require him to tackle or regularly mark Ozil, but to distinguish between when his countryman is in a genuine goal-scoring position or just making space for teammates in an area of the park that Lahm will have to keep compact. 

It will come down to whether Ozil's ability to drift in and out of games will allow him to slip under Bayern's radar, or if Lahm will be able to read his opponent to perfect precision. We await to see who can trump who on the night. 


Gibbs vs Robben 


For Bayern, the strongest aspect of their attack is the ambidextrous nature of the many arms of their offence. Yet without Franck Ribery, Guardiola's attack may be a little more reliant on the excellence of Arjen Robben on the right-hand wing. 

With that in mind, we're likely to see a fascinating battle between the Dutch winger and Arsenal left-back Kieran Gibbs. A cultured and experienced forward against one of the Premier League's brightest, young defending stars. 

Robben amassed an impressive total of four goals and two assists in just nine games on the road to Wembley last season and will be key to any hopes of Bayern grabbing some invaluable away goals in the first leg of this tie. 

Similarly, Gibbs himself is actually considered a defensive risk at times due to the nature of his indulging runs forward, meaning any counter-attack Guardiola's side intend to strike may be planned behind the space that the young full-back will leave open. If that's the case, Robben will be key to such a plan.