Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Bayern Munich

Based on recent form, according to the broader perception in the press and among fans, and on paper in terms of squad strengths, Bayern are overwhelming favourites to progress to the next round of the Champions League at the expense of Arsenal. I do, however, feel that this tie over two legs can be much closer than many expect it to be. But for that to be the case a simple yet vital question has to be answered in the positive and that’s not easy –

Can the Arsenal defence (the entire unit not just the back five) be trusted to cover structural weaknesses and avoid unforced individual mistakes over 180 minutes (possibly more) of football?

There are times when hype can be misplaced and superlatives unjustified but make no mistake, Bayern are a very, very good team. Tactically, they are one of the most, if not the most, complete sides in European football.

The Germans have technically accomplished players who completely understand, and thus perform synergistically as a unit within, Jupp Heynckes attack-oriented but flexible system. They have goal threats from many players all over the pitch. Bayern are capable of creating multi-player, multi-pass moves to break opponents down. Die Roten are also a genuine threat from counter-attacks and can be direct when they want to, deploying long-balls and flick-ons to good effect. There are many players in the Bavarian side who can trouble Szczesny from distance and they also make clever use of the width of the pitch through their full-backs and wide players. This will be, easily, the best attacking team that Arsenal have played thus far this season.

If I’m not mistaken, Bayern Munich have scored in every single competitive game they have played this season. It’s incredible. I’ll be amazed and delighted if they fail to do so at the Emirates on Tuesday night. Smart money will be on Bayern returning with at least one away goal.

Heynckes’ side are runaway leaders in the Bundesliga and they’ve kept 16 clean sheets in 22 games, conceding just 7 goals in the League all season at less than 1 goal every 3 games. They are adept at pressing higher up the pitch and closing down spaces to win balls back quickly and prevent opponents from building their attacks. They also do a good job of snuffing out long balls aimed towards attackers. When needed, Bayern can also drop back into their own half and defend as a unit, although this is mostly in the central third of the pitch with the first line of defence around the central third.

That explains why Bayern are favourites according to many, now let’s come to the other side of the equation.

There is a feeling that the Germans haven’t really been tested this season. In the Champions League group phase, they only scored 3 and conceded 4 while picking up 4 points in their away games. This includes a 3-1 defeat against Alexander Hleb’s BATE Borisov, a 1-1 draw against Valencia at the Mestalla where the hosts were down to 10 men for close to an hour, and a narrow 0-1 win over Lille who lost 5 of their 6 games. In the Bundesliga, they’ve not beaten the 2nd or 3rd placed teams yet despite playing both at home. They drew with Dortmund (1-1) and lost to Leverkusen (1-2).

So, there is no doubt in my mind that if – and that’s a big, big if, mind you – Arsenal can perform to their best level over the two legs without any drops in concentration, or signs of the handbrake, and other self-defeating elements of their game, the Gunners will have a very good chance of qualifying.

I am finding it hard to predict the patterns of play in this game as many possibilities are imaginable. Bayern top the Bundesliga possession stats with close to 64 percent possession while the Gunners are second in the Premier League with 58.5 percent. Both teams like to keep the ball and it’ll be interesting to see which one manages to dominate possession in this game.

I think Arsenal have a slight edge in the technical department in midfield but Bayern have a better front six as their attacking players add exceptional technical quality. Walcott and Giroud are likely to be the weak links as far as technique is concerned and could be prone to losing possession, which in turn could mean the Gunners won’t be able to hold on to the ball for as long as Bayern do. The Bavarians are also better at pressing and regaining possession while Arsenal have shown a tendency to drop back and concede the attacking half to the opponent when out of possession. This too indicates that the visitors will see more of the ball than Wenger’s side.

If Arsenal do sit back they’ll have to be very vigilant as a unit because Bayern’s attacking players interchange positions seamlessly and make astute use of space. They are also quick to change flanks and their full-backs generally time their runs intelligently. Arsenal’s wide players will have to be diligent with their tracking. There will be times when their wide players cut inside and either Alaba or Lahm makes an overlapping run. In those moments, the Arsenal full-backs will be vulnerable. If their teammates don’t read the situation as it’s developing and only react after it’s in motion, the team will concede space and, consequently, opportunities.

Ramsey, if he’s picked, will have a big role in front of the defence. Arteta will too. Hopefully, Wenger will not pick Wilshere and Cazorla centrally, they both need greater freedom to express their talents and relatively fewer defensive responsibilities. Jack up the pitch and Santi on the left seems the better choice. That said, I’ll be concerned about Cazorla’s ability to track Lahm on a consistent basis if he’s picked on the flank.

Wenger’s side will also have to start strongly. Conceding a couple of early goals – like they did against Chelsea and City – will settle the tie prematurely. It’s also likely to give voice to the disgruntled fans. On the other hand, a dominant start that shows desire and determination could get the Emirates crowd going.

Offensively, it will be a major surprise and a disappointment if Arsenal don’t score in this game. Bayern are very strong as a unit but they do seem vulnerable when opponents get past their first line of defence and spend some time in their defensive third. In that regard, the Bavarians are a bit like their hosts. Unlike Arsenal though, their back four is not always keen to drop deep when possession is lost. The Gunners will have to earn the right to attack their goal. Wilshere’s ability to get past his man could prove vital. It’ll be interesting to see if Bayern double up on him in the central third. Cazorla’s ability to hold the ball under pressure and bring his teammates into play will also be useful. His long and accurate diagonals towards Walcott can get Arsenal into threatening positions.

Walcott’s pace is a threat against any team but David Alaba is no slouch. I’m keen to see how tight he gets to Theo. My suggestion to the Englishman will be to start wider and work his way across the defensive line when Arsenal have the ball. His speedy runs can cause some confusion in the Bayern backline as the defenders will have to share the responsibility of marking/tracking him. Theo will also be  a bigger threat if he can get his off-the-ball movement in sync with the vision of the midfielders. He’ll have a greater chance of making an impact if he constantly looks to get in-behind and receive the ball there rather than trying to run at the defence with the ball at his feet.

Neuer is a very highly rated goalkeeper but I feel Arsenal should take every opportunity to test him. Put pressure on him when he receives back passes, attack the penalty box looking for knock-backs when shots are taken from distance, and deliver crosses that pull him out of his line. The German’s record is impressive but I don’t think he’s tested often enough. There are mistakes in his game.

As with any big fixture, individual moments can be decisive. A casual touch in a dangerous area, a bad or great pass, a last-gasp tackle or block, a big save, or clinical finishing can all make the difference.

Wenger has some big decisions to make in his team selection.

Does he go for Ramsey in midfield? Should Podolski start? If so whether on the left or down the middle (I prefer this but very unlikely to happen.)? Who will play at left-back?

It will depend on Koscielny’s fitness but we might see,

Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny/Vermaelen, Vermaelen/Jenkinson – Ramsey, Wilshere, Arteta – Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla.

Vermaelen might have to play through the middle if Koscielny is not fit and that would leave Jenkinson as the main option on the left (Monreal is cup-tied in case you didn’t know). Coquelin could also be an interesting possibility at left-back if he is instructed to keep things simple and focus on defending. Arsenal are likely to lose some offensive threat down that flank no matter who plays at full-back, which in turn might prompt Wenger to pick Podolski on the flank. Ramsey would be the most likely casualty in that case with Cazorla moving inside.

Bayern played on Friday whereas the Gunners played the FA Cup tie on Saturday. But Wenger was able to rest several players whereas the Bavarians will largely field the same eleven that won the game against Wolfsburg, so the hosts should be fresher, in theory at least.

Arsenal have to win this game if they want to give themselves a good shot at going through. Winning is about scoring goals but, at the simplest level, this tie will boil down to their defending.

P.S. I didn’t see the point in a late match report for the Blackburn game.

17 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Bayern Munich

  1. Kushagra says:

    Podolski is a sure-shot starter for tonight I believe Giroud will be dropped with Theo in the middle as for Ramsey has too many brain freeze moments will prefer Rosicky..

  2. Jimc says:

    I think a reaction is overdue from some of our big names. But the worrying aspect of current crop is that even with the underdog status, we can’t look up and point to a few players who will step up and make it count. However, there would be no better feeling if we are able to say that couple of young players have come of age over the two legs ala Jacky boy against Barca…

  3. santori says:

    You have to be kidding

    Podolski to start. he if anyone has a bone to pick and will be up for it. Wondering why he wasn’t played against Blackburn?

    Also likely Santo and Jack in midfield to assert pressure high up the pitch if Arteta starts. Don’t see the point in Ramsey. great improvements in recent games but still tendency to lose the odd ball with no engine to win it back (as recently)

    Vermaeln defintely out at LB. Jenkinson is not as strong on the other side and in any case tends to be rash as if the lot of youth/inexperience.


    Koscielny, Arteta and TV will cover the left flank (with Poldy)

    Walcott’s form is crucial, if he is able to support Sagna, we will profit. If he puts in a apathetic perfromance, our right flank will suffer.

    Jack and Arteta IMO is the best choice for us to add that competitiveness in the middle of the park and add threat in concert with Santi when transitioning.

    In particular, Santi’s ability to play with both feet may lend opportunity for him to switch flanks with either Poldy or Walcott, affording either one the window to push in field in support of Giroud (play off him) through channels if we are constricted out wide.(Presumably our LB will be more restricted)

    Other worry is Koscielny who tends to have great outings or push the self destruct button on more frequent occasion than desirable. If he has a good game, Per will not struggle.

    Finally Giroud. Our best openings may likely come from counterattacking moves so his lay offs/distribution will be absolutely key. Then it may be up to the following trio of Poldy, Walcott or Santi to put them away as clinically as poss.

    not expecting anything from this one so hope to be pleasantly surprised. But an away goal will likely be an undoing for us.

    • Kushagra says:



      Grioud has been pretty average losing possession frequently .

  4. […] League at the expense of Arsenal. I do, however, feel that this tie over two legs can be much […] …read more Read more here: […]

  5. Kushagra says:

    Giroud has been very wasteful in possession of late so yeah Cazorla on right with Arteta-Ramsey as double pivot ,Rosicky having played against Blackburn will come on after 60 to spice things up when they get tired keep it tight till then .

  6. Sunderaa says:

    It would be naive to leave Podolski or Mertesacker out of this match. It neglects the “human” side of sport. These two Germans will be up for the match in a big way. They NEED to start, and they NEED to shine. They have to be given the chance in a game of this magnitude against a German side. Unless because of injury, I will be surprised (and disappointed) if they are both not in the starting eleven.

  7. Gerry Lennon says:

    Spot on Desi, Very difficult, but not impossible?

  8. Ferdinand masinde says:

    Ramsey and jenkison?NO..that is like starting minus 1 player.poldi has to start as he will be up for it..jst hope not ala adebayor!i will be pleasantly surprised with a win

  9. Karan Kapoor says:

    anyone else feel the need for rosicky? i feel like hes the one who can make our passing work at a high tempo, he likes to work those quick passes unlike the rest in our team. i would like to see him as a no 10, with wilshere and ramsey behind him. ramsey over arteta just because he puts in a lot more energy, pace, and athleticism into our team than arteta does. also, since we’ll be having very little of the ball, we need ramseys energy to chase it down. i would also like to see podolski on the left, walcott in the center and cazorla down the right. podolski tracks back well so we need him as our LW. the only problem with this is that cazorla’s left to do tracking for alaba and ribery and hes just terrible defensively. but i still wouldnt wanna play walcott on the right, podolski center and cazorla left because theos our main weapon with his pace down the center. all our attacks are going to be quick ones, with not a lot of passing/ball retention. thats why we need an outball and theo’s pace down the center gives us just that

  10. phill23 says:

    If Diaby is fit he should start.

    Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Vermaelen
    Diaby Arteta
    Cazorla Wilshere Podolski

    Chamberlain, Giroud, Rosciky

    Lets see them play a high line against this line up…

  11. abachaghana says:

    arsenal o their day can score every team in the world…all the players need to do is to get their focus and concentrations right to avoid silly errors and you will hoot at beyyernn home

  12. Winner says:

    A couple of quick observation.
    1. Arsenal is far more portent when Podolski is playing. He was the main creator in all the high scoring games we have had this season.
    2. Defensively Arteta and Diaby protect the back four far better than any other combination. Although Ramsey has shown good potential in that aspect.
    3. The team has been creating chances but not taking them efficiently. One team is due a serious hiding. If it does not happen in this game, soon it will happen.
    4. On paper and in terms of talent and potential the current Arsenal squad can compete with the very best in Europe. Confidence-wise they are the most fragile side Wenger has put together in the last sixteen years.
    5. This team has too many attack minded players even on the bench. That makes achieving balance and picking the starting eleven very difficult for this game.
    6.most fans are hurting; me included; but I think we stand the best chance if we unite behind the team for every game till the end of the season. If we have anger and disappointment to express, I suggest we wait till the summer. We all want the team to do well. The competition is very tough, but division, disunity and turning against the team will not make this season any better. I believe we can have some very enjoyable performances before the season is over if we unite.
    7. With all the disappointments and frustrations Wenger is still a good coach and our coach. Lets support the team no matter what. I have to admit it-sometimes watching arsenal is not good for my emotional health but I will watch tonight and expect a wonderful surprise.

  13. […] the preview, I’d talked about the timing of Bayern’s full-backs’ runs. They do it all the […]

  14. […] far as tactics are concerned, the preview and post-match report from the first-leg cover pretty much everything I have to say. Bayern are […]

  15. […] somewhat familiar? Those are the words I wrote almost exactly a year ago in the preview of the first leg against Bayern. I can copy paste much of the content from that article as it’s still equally […]

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