Champions League Tactical Preview: Arsenal v Bayern Munich



Many pundits and fans expect Arsenal to crash out of the Champions League at the hands of Bayern Munich, who are currently flying high in the Bundesliga. The German side are 15 points clear of Borussia Dortmund, while Arsenal have had their share of problems domestically. As a result Bayern go into the tie as favourites at 2.20, with Arsenal at 3.40 and a draw at 3.30. Arsenal will likely need to take a lead into the second leg in Munich to have any chance of going through


Probable line-ups

With Kieron Gibbs injured and Nacho Monreal cup-tied, Arsenal will have to opt for Thomas Vermaelen at left-back. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker will be paired in the middle:

Jupp Heynckes' selection headache will be whether to include Arjen Robben from the start. Although the winger came off the bench to score against Wolfsburg on Friday, Thomas Muller will likely get the nod. Franck Ribery will start on the opposite flank, with Mario Mandzukic up top:


Defending the flanks

One of the key areas for Arsenal will be defending the flanks - an area where they have been vulnerable this season. Sagna has been a liability at right-back at times, often caught out of position, and Vermaelen may struggle out of position on the left.

Bayern will use the flanks to bombard Arsenal, operating in a 4-2-3-1 formation with inverted wingers. Ribery will cut in from the left flank allowing space for David Alaba to overlap and provide the real width. On the right, Muller tends to come inside to get close to the striker, which in turns gives  Philipp Lahm license to get forward. Cutting off the supply to Lahm is essential for Arsenal, given the inclination of the German captain to get on the ball from right-back. He is a very expansive full-back and as such will be marauding forward at every opportunity.

Above are the average positions of Bayern's players in their recent 4-0 victory at home to Shalke, which highlights the width they play with. Lahm (21) and Alaba (27) are very advanced down their respective flanks. Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott will thus have to track back and time runs in behind their men. If Munich press the game and look to score an away goal Arsenal might have some joy on the counter-attack given the pace in their side and their ability to move the ball at speed.


Cutting off the source

The midfield battle is also intriguing. Arsenal are a team who lack a real midfield destroyer but look to dominate possession through neat, quick passing. Bayern, on the other hand, play a classic defensive midfield pivot with Javi Martinez as the ball winner and Bastian Schweinstieger as the carrier and distributor. Arsenal may want to cut off the source by nullifying Schweinstieger, who is Bayern's most influential player in terms of possession. The German international is his side's top passer and actually the 9th top passer in Europe, with an average of 72.6 passes per game at 90% accuracy. If Arsenal sit a player on Schweinstieger to disrupt his rhythm they could have some joy.

Martinez is Bayern's top tackler with 2.3 per game, demonstrating his ability to marshall the back four. The battle between him and fellow Spaniard Santi Cazorla will be interesting. Martinez looks to defend the area between Munich's defence and midfield, where Cazorla tends to lurk for Arsenal. The same can be said of Tony Kroos, whose influence cannot be understated. Bayern will look to get him on the ball in advanced positions and without a recognized defensive midfielder Arsenal might struggle to contain him.


Conclusion

Arsenal's defensive frailties should certainly be a concern for Arsene Wenger ahead of this game. Injury doubts over his centre-backs and the lack of a recognised left back are major worries. Bayern have not conceded in their last four Bundesliga games, demonstrating their confidence and their defensive abilities. For Arsenal, cutting off the supply is the best way they can win this tie - especially by nullifying the impact of Bastian Schweinstieger at the heart of the Munich midfield.

Arsenal simply must get a result, especially considering the fact that they crashed out of the FA Cup at home to Blackburn on Saturday. But if Bayern are on song they have the ability to destroy any team put in front of them, making this a potentially explosive Champions League encounter.

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