Before every Arsenal fixture, we'll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners' next opponents.Arsene Wenger's side host holders Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Raphael Honigstein
MICHAEL COXArsenal came close to defeating Bayern Munich on the German champions’ way to last season’s European Cup final - the Gunners were eliminated on away goals after a valiant effort in Bavaria.
That wasn’t bad considering Italian champions Juventus were thrashed 4-0 on aggregate, and Spanish champions Barcelona were defeated 7-0, before Bayern beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 at Wembley.
Worryingly, however, Bayern are even stronger this season. The club didn’t truly need Pep Guardiola, considering Jupp Heynckes’ achievements, but the opportunity to acquire the man who created the finest side of this era at Barcelona was too good to resist. A treble-winning manager taking charge of a treble-winning squad has created an astonishingly complete team.
Guardiola has found a balance between preserving last season’s formula and stamping his own identity upon the side. The major change is the structure of the midfield - whereas Bayern played a double pivot last season, Guardiola has generally played just one holding midfielder.
The identity of that player has been an even greater surprise, as Philipp Lahm, previously considered one of the world’s best full backs, is now the heartbeat of the side, with Guardiola describing him as the most intelligent player he’s ever coached.
"Guardiola has found a balance between preserving last season’s formula and stamping his own identity upon the side"
Behind Lahm, Bayern defend with a back four that plays extremely high up the pitch. Full backs Rafinha and David Alaba scamper forward as keenly as you’d expect, with Jerome Boateng and Dante pushing up and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer playing as a sweeper keeper.
In the front five positions, Bayern are somewhat unpredictable, such is the wealth of Guardiola’s tactical options. Thiago Alcantara, an astonishingly talented playmaker poached from Guardiola’s old club Barcelona, has become a fixture in the side recently, and starts dangerous attacks from deep. Alongside him, Guardiola has often used Mario Gotze, although on Wednesday he might use a more cautious midfielder, with patient passer Bastian Schweinsteiger, intelligent playmaker Toni Kroos or superb all-rounder Javi Martinez alternative options.
Out wide, Bayern are without Franck Ribery, their star player last season. Instead, Guardiola will use Arjen Robben on one flank and possibly hard-working Thomas Muller on the opposite side, with Gotze another option out wide.
Up front, Mario Mandzukic was magnificent at the Emirates last year, but against Arsenal’s passing quality, a manager as obsessed with ball retention as Guardiola may prefer a forward with superior link-up play, and he’s used both Muller and Gotze as a false nine this season.
RAPHAEL HONIGSTEINConfidence at Bayern Munich is high although Arsenal were probably the toughest team they could have got after they faced Manchester City in the group stage. There is a lot of respect for Arsenal and that 2-0 defeat in Munich provides a warning sign and a good reason to give Arsenal lots of respect in both ties.
Pep Guardiola has changed nothing specifically from the team that Arsenal faced last season, but he has changed small things that have made the team slightly less predictable to work out. There has been a natural progression, an evolution more than anything radically new.
"I can see Arsenal playing fairly cautiously - by that I mean keeping the ball a lot and not committing too many players forward"
As a result, the team have become more dominant and even better in possession, but at the same time, there are more options to mix it up against teams who are set up to deal with Bayern's strengths. They have developed a new flexibility.
Guardiola's method is one of constant improvement and constant small changes. That doesn't always make for free-flowing football because the players are very busy trying to internalise all the new things that are demanded of them. Bayern have only lost one game all season if you disregard the pre-season Super Cup defeat against Dortmund, and that was one they could afford to lose, against City.
Everybody appreciates that Bayern are playing very well, and at times have probably played the best football we've seen. The stakes are very high for Bayern, coming after this treble. If they get knocked out by Arsenal, lose in a later round or for whatever reason don't quite fulfil the impossibly high demands that they set themselves, all the good football and compliments about Guardiola's development will count for nothing.
You can only say that they look as though they might be able to play stronger. There is a belief and a hope that they could be on the cusp of forming a new dynasty, the way they did in the 1970s. At the same time, there is a realisation that it's much harder to repeat the extraordinary success that they had last year. There is a good reason why nobody in the Champions League era has been able to defend their title successfully.
It's quite difficult to predict what sort of game we'll see on Wednesday. I can see Arsenal playing fairly cautiously - by that I mean keeping the ball a lot and not committing too many players forward, the way they dealt with Dortmund to a certain extent. It could be a similar set-up and it is down to how much Bayern will want to press the issue. Maybe they will be quite happy to wait a little bit.
A year ago, Bayern were in a decent position but nobody could expect the rapid progress they would make in the Champions League from the Arsenal game onwards. A lot of people were surprised by the pressing game they played so successfully at the Emirates. I don't think we'll see a similar surprise this time but, with Guardiola, you never quite know.
There are so many ways this could go but one thing I would definitely bet on is a couple of goals, because I don't think that these two teams can be shut out.
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