Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side take on Bayern Munich on Wednesday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Raphael Honigstein for their views.
Arsenal need no introduction to Bayern’s attacking quality following the German league leaders’ confident 3-1 victory at the Emirates last month.
Jupp Heynckes’ side showcased their tremendous ball retention, their intelligent movement and their clinical finishing in the penalty box. Clearly, Arsenal must be on their guard defensively.
"Bayern’s home defensive record is formidable - they haven’t conceded three at home since this stage two years ago when Inter won 3-2 in a repeat of the previous season’s Champions League final"
But the Gunners’ major task is at the other end - they must score three goals to stand a chance of progression to the quarter-finals.
This will be extremely difficult against the most impressive defence in European football - Bayern have only conceded 10 goals in their 25 Bundesliga matches this season, an astonishing record.
Curiously, they’re actually more miserly away from home, with just one concession in 12 league games.
Still, Bayern’s home defensive record is formidable - they haven’t conceded three at home since this stage two years ago when Inter won 3-2 in a repeat of the previous season’s Champions League final.
Bayern defend proactively, with and without the ball. Their incessant ball retention - only Barcelona have a higher pass completion rate in Europe - starves the opposition of possession, making it difficult for them to build attacks.
If Arsenal sit back too much, Bayern will pass the ball across their defence, slow the tempo, and record a comfortable aggregate victory. Pressing heavily may allow Bayern to attack directly behind the defence - but Arsenal must take risks.
Without the ball, a feature of Bayern’s play at the Emirates was their compactness. Attacking midfielder Toni Kroos and striker Mario Mandzukic dropped extremely deep, and sometimes when Mikel Arteta received the ball in midfield, he found 10 Bayern players between himself and Manuel Neuer.
Bayern keep their lines close together, denying opponents space in the centre of the pitch. And while the full backs, Philipp Lahm and David Alaba, are both attack-minded in general, they will probably be more cautious in the second leg.
Arsenal might find more space on the flanks to cross the ball, but the centre-back combination of Dante and Jerome Boateng (who will probably replace Daniel van Buyten from the first leg) is formidable in the air.
It’s going to be very tough for Arsenal to get back into the tie. Bayern don’t concede many goals and they score quite a lot as well. Even if there was some sort of complete breakdown at the break, you can still see them scoring one or two goals.
"The one bit of confidence that Arsenal can take is that last year, Milan showed that it can be difficult to go into the second leg of a tie with a big lead. I was speaking to Mark van Bommel after that game and he said the team didn’t know how to cope with that lead in the first half"
There’s a chance that Bayern could play with two holding midfielders and give Toni Kroos a more advanced role. Heynckes has said that Luis Gustavo will come in for the suspended Bastian Schweinsteiger and I think he’ll play alongside Javi Martinez. There’s the chance that Bayern will play with two players whose primary role is to protect the back four.
Jupp Heynckes is very experienced and he will pick his strongest team. He will stress that it’s only half time in the tie and that his team should go out and approach the game as though it’s 0-0. The one bit of confidence that Arsenal can take is that last year, Milan showed that it can be difficult to go into the second leg of a tie with a big lead. I was speaking to Mark van Bommel after that game and he said the team didn’t know how to cope with that lead in the first half. It’s not inconceivable Bayern will find it quite challenging psychologically.
It’s a huge game for Heynckes and for the whole club. They are hurting from that final defeat last year and they really want to go one better. They want to make sure that Heynckes has the send-off he deserves. The players are beginning to realise that you don’t get too many chances to win trophies at this level. This season they look like a very good side with a very decent chance of winning the competition. I think that extra bit of determination could make a difference not only in this game, but also in the latter stages if they advance. Bayern wouldn’t be 20 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga if they didn’t play with that extra urgency. A Bayern team of old would have slowed down by now and perhaps taken it a bit easier.
I think the home side will win 2-1.
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