Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Champions League Match Preview, Bayern Munich v Arsenal: Use Their Anger Against Them

Arsenal confront an apparently enraged Bayern Munich in Germany on Matchday Four of the UEFA Champions League.

The Gunners’ 2-0 win over the previously omnipotent side two weeks ago seems to have stirred up Pep Guardiola’s charges. Star striker Robert Lewandowski, who had two goal-bound shots saved by Arsenal’s Petr Cech at the Emirates, said, “We desperately need the points. We have to show who is the better team.”

Bayern’s motivation isn’t lost on Arsenal. According to Per Mertesacker, who likely enjoys some back-channel communications with several compatriots in the Bavarian side, “They will be angry I guess. We are the first team who really challenged them, so they will be on the ball and try to show that they are back and better than us.” (Arsenal.com)

There’s no question of Bayern’s quality. They’re the Bundesliga’s juggernaut and one of the two best teams in Europe. Guardiola has skillfully mixed the experience of players like Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso with the guile of Douglas Costa and Arjen Robben and the firepower of Thomas Müller and Lewandowki.

Arsenal witnessed the threat in Matchday Three, but the Gunners did not cower. Bayern’s skill in and dominance of possession failed to carry the day. That’s largely because Arsenal stayed disciplined in defense, forced Bayern to pass around the perimeter, and intervened only at the most opportune moments.

It’s likely to be the same approach at the Allianz Arena, perhaps with a slight variation. If Bayern let too much emotion affect their style and decisions, they’ll be vulnerable to a martial arts-style response from Arsenal. Frustrate them for another period of time, and they might be more prone to mistakes. Particularly on set pieces.

Arsenal also can’t allow changes in personnel to affect the proceedings too much. A different Gunner will have to summon the energy and intelligence of Aaron Ramsey on the right side of midfield. That’s especially important given the wide threat posed by Costa and Robben, who missed the London leg due to injury.

Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger may rejigger the midfield, bringing in Mathieu Flamini as part of a 4-3-3 formation, but a more likely choice will be to replace Ramsey with Joel Campbell. The Costa Rican had an excellent Premier League debut at Swansea on Saturday, scoring the team’s third goal and displaying a keen will for defending. He’ll have to match that performance—if not improve it—against Bayern.

As if facing Bayern’s wide men weren’t enough of a challenge, Campbell will have to manage the threat with a different right back. Due to Hector Bellerin’s groin injury, Mathieu Debuchy will get the start. The French international has the pedigree to compete in such a headline game; the question is his form. His performances so far this season, including in last week’s Capital One Cup loss at Sheffield Wednesday, have been rusty and unimpressive, to put it charitably. For Arsenal to stay in this contest, Debuchy will have to rise to a very big occasion.

At stake is the Gunners’ control over their own Champions League fate. Escaping Munich with a draw would mean Arsenal could qualify for the knockout phase with wins in their final two matches, regardless of the other results. A win would put them in even better position, level on points with Bayern and holding the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage.

Losing tonight, though, would hand the initiative to Olympiacos. If the Greek team beats Dinamo Zagreb in Athens this evening, a draw against Bayern in two weeks would secure passage to the knockout stage and destroy Arsenal’s chances of progressing.

There’s still a lot of football to be played and therefore a variety of possible outcomes in the competition. But those outcomes will look a lot more promising if Arsenal avoid losing this evening.

Players to Watch:

Arsenal: Olivier Giroud. Arsenal’s center forward changed the complexion of the match at the Emirates, winning the physical battles with Bayern’s central defenders and scoring the decisive goal. The Frenchman, who has six goals in his last six matches for club and country, has also scored at the Allianz Arena before. Another opportunistic goal would strengthen the Gunners immeasurably.
Bayern Munich: Arjen Robben. You can’t take your eyes off that pointy, bald head anyway, so you might as well watch the Dutchman. Although everyone knows his signature move, he’s so quick and wily he’s still difficult to stop. Debuchy and/or Nacho Monreal, and importantly, the assistance they get from Arsenal’s midfielders and forwards, will be sorely tested.

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