Although Arsenal fans may have had some hope before the game thanks to last years result, in the end it was inevitable that Bayern Munich would be the team to progress again. Going into the game, Bayern had only lost twice at home in the last year – to Arsenal and Manchester City – whilst Arsenal were the only team to stop the German giants from scoring at the Allianz for almost two years.
If you put this history alongside Bayern’s rampant form since the first leg, you’d realise the task at hand for Arsenal, who would have to give one of their most complete performances in history to stop this Bayern team from scoring, whilst putting two past them.
Neither team had a particularly surprising lineup. Bayern made a slight alteration and switched to 4-2-3-1 with Mario Gotze between Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery in the ‘3’ – whilst Schweinsteiger came in for Toni Kroos and Javi Martinez was chosen to play centre-back over natural defender Jerome Boateng.
With Arsenal battling a high number of injuries and Wojciech Szczesny being suspended, Lukasz Fabianksi started in goal, whilst Thomas Vermaelen started at left-back. Arsenal went with an offensive line-up as they started Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain alongside Arteta – leaving more defensive minded Mathieu Flamini on the bench – and opted for Lukas Podolski on the left, rather than the energetic Tomas Rosicky.
It’s impossible to watch a Bayern game from the past couple of seasons and not talk about how impressive their pressing is. It was once again brilliant in this match and stopped Arsenal from playing their usual game. In the Premier League we’re used to seeing teams sit deep against Arsenal, so they have lots of time to bring the ball out of defence and play the way they want to. Imposing their game onto the opposition. However, straight from the off Bayern pressed them and looked to unsettle them, making them rush on the ball and turnover possession several times.
This can be seen in this screenshot, as Bayern pressed Arsenal as soon as the whistle went:
Gotze was key in the pressing and stopping Arsenal playing from the back. When Arsenal bring the ball out of defence they go through Arteta, who then turns and starts attacks. The impetus on Arteta would have been even higher in this match, as once in possession Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla would have been expected to be ahead of him and look to spread the attack and Bayern defence. However, because of Gotze playing in the hole, this didn’t really happen as Gotze stood close to Arteta and stopped him being a passing option whenever Arsenal looked to play the ball out. Forcing Arsenal to either go wide or long.
Examples of Gotze’s pressing can be seen here:
In the above example, Robben is pressing Per Mertesacker on the ball, whilst also closing the passing lane to Arteta – who will be marked by Gotze, who’s running over to press him in this picture. Then, Laurent Koscielny isn’t a great passing option as Mario Mandzukic is ready to press if the ball is played across. Bacary Sagna could be an option, but even then Ribery is ready to pounce should his fellow countryman receive the ball. So, the only really option for Mertesacker is to go back to his goalkeeper and send it long, stopping Arsenal from playing it from the back. If Gotze hadn’t been there, Arteta would have more space and probably be able to create an angle where he could receive the ball.
In this example Fabianski has the ball, and usually for Arsenal it’ll be rolled out to one of the defenders or Arteta. Here they can roll out to the defenders but can’t go their usual route through Arteta as Gotze blocks off that passing route. Arsenal’s only real way out of defence is wide, which is exactly where Bayern want them to go.
Pep Guardiola has said in the past that the touchline is the best defender as it halves the oppositions space. So, by forcing Arsenal to wide rather than through Arteta, Bayern can then press them against the touchline and a lot of the time win the ball back. This was shown last night, particularly when Mesut Ozil had the ball against the touchline. Which is why I think it might have been better to play Ozil centrally. Although the pressing and defensive shape of Chamberlain and Cazorla was good, if they played wide through one of those two, Ozil could find little pockets of space in the centre and turn on the ball looking to create.
This can be seen when Ozil had the ball against the touchline here:
In this example Ozil lost the ball and did in a few occasions like this, leading to the media onslaught. However, in this situation, what is he supposed to do? Ribery blocks the passing route back to Sagna, and you could argue that Chamberlain is an option, but it’s a risky pass with Schweinsteiger breathing down his neck. But with Bayern pressing out wide, there’s space centrally (terribly highlighted in yellow).
If Arteta ran beyond Gotze into the space, Ozil would have a simple passing option, or Cazorla could dart into the space, but neither did and possession was lost. Had Ozil been playing centrally and Cazorla had the ball on the right, you could imagine Ozil popping up in that pocket of space and turning and starting an attack.
Ozil’s ability to find space and hold up the ball would have made me toy with the idea of playing him upfront, and playing Rosicky in midfield. It would mean the midfield would have the energy of Rosicky and Chamberlain, whilst Ozil would be better at holding the ball up compared to Olivier Giroud. Although, Giroud is a decent striker, last night helped prove as to why Arsenal need a world class striker should they want to progress further.
Giroud’s pressing was okay, but not great (will get onto this later) but more than anything, whenever the ball was played into him with his back to goal, he lost it, he didn’t make great movements into the channel, offering little on the break and towards the end of the game he had a couple of chances to play in others, but couldn’t find the right pass. Arsenal need a forward who moves into channels and holds the ball up in order to compliment Ozil’s play.
The final point to make on Bayern’s pressing would be just how formidable it was, at times it was as though they were a wall across the half-way line and Arsenal had no way past. In fact, during the first half Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seemed like the only player who could make it into the opposition half and put Bayern under pressure.
In this example, Koscielny is trying to bring the ball out of defence, but finding a passing option looks an impossible task with a wall of four Bayern players across the halfway line in front of him. This kind of situation happened quite a few times in the first half with Arsenal looking as though they have no passing option, and being forced to surrender possession. In the second half, once Gotze had been taken off, the pressing wasn’t as prominent with Thiago not having the same kind of energy as Gotze in the first half, allowing the game to swing into Arsenal’s favour in the last twenty or so minutes.
Arsenal’s Pressing And Defensive Shape
There’s a lot less to say about Arsenal’s pressing and defence as there is about Bayern, however, Arsenal still did quite well defensive last night.
Their pressing was decent. Not on the level of Bayern – expectedly – and they did give Bayern a lot more time on the ball in their own half than Bayern gave Arsenal, but I was still quite impressed. Early in the game it seemed as though Chamberlain played more advanced than Cazorla, which I imagine was for pressing as they typically pressed like this:
Arsenal do a good job of closing the oppositions forward passing lanes, but ultimately not as well as Bayern. Chamberlain had good energy pressing alongside Giroud, and Ozil and Podolski did well tracking and blocking the lanes of Philipp Lahm and David Alaba respectively, particularly as the two aren’t known for their defensive contribution.
I was more impressed with Arsenal when they had to defend deeper. Koscielny and Mertesacker were resolute at the heart of the defence constantly putting themselves on the line, whilst Thomas Vermaelen put in a good performance in left-back, which is a place I thought Bayern would have found lots of joy. Robben had a lot of the ball and was dangerous, but Vermaelen handled him well, and on the occasions he got the better of the Belgian international, Koscielny stepped across and dealt with the the threat.
Arsenal’s midfield shape was also quite impressive, as when deeper it became a bit more of a ‘1-2′ midfield, creating a 4-1-4-1 shape with Cazorla and Chamberlain alongside each other as Arteta stayed just in front of the back four. Examples of this can be seen here:
In this example they both press Thiago high up the pitch, stopping him from picking out a vertical pass and making him go backwards. It also looks as if Chamberlain is ready to press whoever receives the ball, looking as though he’s about to press Schweinsteiger.
Meanwhile, in this example you can see them in more of a 4-1-4-1 formation defending deep. Arteta is sitting just in front of the defence marking Gotze, with the midfield four ahead of him – albeit Chamberlain pressing Lahm on the ball, so it’s not a perfect ‘bank’.
Despite not winning the tie, Arsenal should take heart from their defensive display. With a tough run of games coming up in the league that will be crucial in deciding who the title goes to, Arsenal will need to be resolute in defence. To only concede one at the Allianz with Bayern’s recent form is an achievement. If they can find a balance between this resolute defence and the fluid attacking play witnessed against Everton, then they should be able to get some good results against fellow title rivals Manchester City and Chelsea.
Despite running out of steam and fading slightly in the second half, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was phenomenal for Arsenal against Bayern and gave a real complete performance. In the first half he was the only player to put Bayern under pressure with his direct running, but that was only one aspect of his game.
Chamberlain pressed well for Arsenal in the first half with relentless energy, making two interceptions – only Mertesacker made more for Arsenal. He held the midfield shape well and did a decent job of distributing it when needed. His dribbling was the standout part of his game though as he completed 10 take ons, twice as many as next best Arjen Robben. He was Arsenal’s best counter-attacking option in the first half, with his pace, power and skill. Whilst Giroud didn’t do a great job of holding the ball up, when the ball was played long to Chamberlain in the first half he managed to bring it down and get the better of Dante, before the Brazilian brought him down.
The performance didn’t just show Chamberlain’s quality, but also his versatility. Both these are reasons why he should be in the England squad for the World Cup. Not only does he possess some real quality, he’s capable of playing in any midfield position. It’ll be interesting to see where he ends up playing regularly, but wherever it is he’ll be effective. After the performance against Bayern, topped with his midfield performance against Milan two years ago, it’s hard to believe he’s still only 20 years of age. Needless to say it looks as though he’s set for a bright future.
Substitutions – Rosicky and Kroos
Although the substitution was forced for Arsenal, and they’ve been dealt a huge blow with Ozil being out for a few weeks, Rosicky was a good option in midfield for this game and helped Arsenal get into the game more towards the end. The energy brought into the midfield was incredibly useful, both in pressing and trying to stop Bayern playing the way they like to and also in attack, bringing more pace and fluidity into attack. Something they generally lose when Podolski occupies the left flank – although he did have quite a good game last night.
It was surprising not to see Rosicky start, as his energy from the off would have been helpful to Arsenal, particularly if they wanted an early goal to immediately get back into the tie. A double pivot of Arteta and Rosicky was expected, with Chamberlain on the left rather than Podolski, offering pace and width. However, it wasn’t to be, but Rosicky’s presence did help improve Arsenal once he came on.
Taking Gotze off for Kroos didn’t seem like the best of moves to me. When he first came on I thought it meant Bayern would try to get more of a foothold on the midfield as Arsenal started to get into the game more, and that they’d turn to a ‘1-2′ midfield, with Schweinsteiger operating behind Kroos and Thiago. However, Bayern kept the same shape and Thiago played ahead of the German pair. As mentioned earlier, this allowed Arsenal to get into the game more as Thiago didn’t have the same energy as Gotze whilst pressing Arteta, allowing Arsenal to play their game a bit more, which is why Arsenal started to dominate and create more towards the end of the game.
There were no shocks or miracles in the end and Bayern rightfully progress from the tie. For Arsenal it seems they’ll need to recruit in the summer, and hope they can win the FA Cup to eliminate the trophy drought. With all their injuries and tough run-in, although not impossible, the league looks unlikely. Arsenal can take heart from their performance, but ultimately it’s a repeat of last season.
Bayern on the other hand did all they needed to. They’re running away with the league and were professional in this tie. Whilst not setting the world alight they got the job done and in the 2nd leg did all they had to do – remain solid and keep the ball. Franz Beckenbauer has criticised them as being boring, but I don’t think that’s the case. Bayern have a variety of ways they can play and with a forward like Mandzukic or next season Robert Lewandowski leading the line it’s unlikely they’ll turn into a replica of Guardiola’s Barcelona side.
Overall, for a neutral they were two good games and Bayern as though they could go on and be the first team to win consecutive Champions Leagues. The only team I feel who will be a good match for them is Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid side, no matter what though, it’ll be interesting to see who they get in the next round and whether they are capable of retaining the cup.