Preview: FC Bayern – FC Arsenal

Justin Separator February 13, 2017

Ahead of the first leg we spoke with Sam. Sam is one of our translators here at Miasanrot and in his heart a supporter of FC Arsenal, making him the ideal interview partner.

Visual: Michael Böck

Hello Sam, it’s likely that many of our readers aren’t quite so familiar with you. Could you briefly introduce yourself and explain to us why you’re an Arsenal fan?

Hello. I’m a 20-year-old languages student currently living in Hamburg on my year abroad as part of my degree studying German and Spanish. I’ve been an Arsenal fan since birth because of my dad, and he’s the one who took me to lots of games, first at Highbury and then at the Emirates. I’m also a member of the Miasanrot team as a translator, and have been translating articles from German into English for several months now. So I have a foot in each camp almost, although my allegiances for this game are pretty clear.

It’s almost unbelievable. This time Arsenal managed to win their group, and yet they still couldn’t avoid one of the big sides. Is that just disappointing, or can you take your motivation from that to finally make it through?

I’d say not just disappointing but boring. I wouldn’t mind losing to Real Madrid or to Atletico Madrid or someone else we haven’t played much recently, but losing against Bayern is just so dull. It’s also frustrating having a tough draw despite fighting to top the group, but we’d probably be unlikely to make it past the quarter-finals anyway.

In the league, Arsene Wenger’s side started very promisingly, but have lately lost touch with Chelsea. As it stands, you’re in third place. How satisfied are the fans with this situation and what kind of aspirations do club and fans hold?

I think most fans are frustrated at losing more ground and perhaps bored more than anything. It hasn’t been a terrible season, we had a really good patch towards the beginning of the season. But as usual the promise has been replaced by familiar disappointment and the feeling that we were probably foolish to think we could be genuine contenders. There’s lots of anger towards the manager among the fan-base, lots of frustration and very little optimism at the moment I think. Personally I’m just a little bored. The best we can hope for is probably 2nd place and the FA Cup, meaning we’ve made basically no progress in the last four years.

You just can’t shake the feeling that the Gunners have been treading water for years. What’s holding them back?

It feels like things have become a bit stale. Since we signalled a new era by signing Mesut Özil for €50 million, we were supposed to have pushed on and become regular title contenders. And yet we seem to have plateaued and we can’t quite find that next level. I like our squad, I think it’s one of the best we’ve had in quite some time. But for some reason our results aren’t improving. The longer this goes on, the less faith I have in Arsene.

So is it time for a change?

Probably a reluctant yes. After everything he’s done for us, we should have the utmost respect and love for him – he’s a club legend and nothing should change that. But I think it may be time soon to freshen things up and bring in some new ideas, as long as we can find somebody who would be up to the job. I just have no idea who that could be.

Arsene Wenger, manager of FC Arsenal since 1996.
(Image: Clive Rose / Getty Images)

Recently Arsenal have been knocked out in the round of sixteen in the Champions League six times. Why will they reach the quarter finals this time?

That’s a hard question. We do have a rare advantage in that we have the home leg second this time, as we usually have to play away in the second leg. This time we can afford to be defensive in the away game, before going for it in the home leg with our fans behind us (theoretically). That might make a big psychological difference.

Where would you pinpoint FC Bayern’s weak-points, and how can Wenger’s side exploit them?

Again a hard question. Most of our fans are still petrified of Bayern after our recent history and their reputation, but from the knowledge I’ve gained having translated for Miasanrot, I can see that things aren’t quite going so smoothly. Even though they’re top of the Bundesliga quite comfortably, they seem to be struggling to hit form and winning games unconvincingly. Perhaps if Bayern aren’t confident we can shake them by coming at them fast early on and surprising them.

And what kind of tactical strategy are you expecting from Arsenal?

In this away leg we’ll probably be quite cautious but look to take opportunities on the break. Arsene isn’t the type of manager who would play to defend only, but he’s not stupid either. We’ll probably look to protect the defence with Xhaka and Coquelin in midfield, sitting compactly as a team, and try to use Walcott, Özil and Sanchez on the break.

How will the game go?

I’ll go for a mixture of optimistic and realistic and say a tight 2-1 to Bayern. An away goal would be lovely.

If you could take any FC Bayern player to play for Arsenal, who would it be and why?

That’s a tricky one. Maybe Thiago Alcantara – we’ve struggled without Cazorla and Thiago would control the midfield quite nicely. Plus it seems like Bayern rely on him a lot at the moment, so it would be nice to weaken them as much as possible.

Arsenal has had a solid season so far but there is still no big progress noticeable. The round-of-sixteen will be important, especially for Arsene Wenger.

There is quite a tense atmosphere around FC Bayern fans right now. They have had their experiences with Arsenal over the past years, which include devastating losses, last-minute victories and even outstanding performances at home at Allianz Arena. This season however, a prediction for the upcoming games is very hard to come up with.

Scouting report

That is not only because of the unsteady performances the Bavarians have shown so far this year, but also because Arsenal is and has been unpredictable in every matchup. Arsene Wenger sticks to his tried and trusted habits, which kept the club in the Premier League’s top four over and over again.

Not everyone is satisfied with that. There are people criticizing the lack of development and that the club has not reached into Europe’s top tear with all the potential at hand. Considering that Arsenal went out in the round-of-sixteen for six times in a row now, underlines this ongoing issue.

You might have to mention that they played Bayern or Barcelona four out of the six times, but even against AS Monaco and AC Milan they lost in the first knock-out rounds. The reasons are quite obvious: Great individual quality, but a diminishing clear concept.

Arsenal is lacking the final touch of creativity

Both teams in our Champions League comparison.
(Analytics: Lukas)

Arsenal fails to build up a steady performance level, which leads to the same problems every season. The favoured 4-2-3-1 formation is a good way to bring out the individual strengths of the players but it is missing the final touches to work smoothly.

The build-up play is way too static and the midfield as a whole sometimes shows mistakes in positioning. Koscielny and Mustafi are able to initiate a solid build-up, but it becomes quite difficult if all targets are positioned badly. Prior to the season they signed Granit Xhaka to counter those problems.

However, it became clear quite fast that he needs a creative companion by his side to show his best performances. Especially in combination with Coquelin, who is liable to make mistakes on a higher level, he cannot perform properly.

Xhaka played on his highest level with Santi Carzorla by his side, who is injured right now. Nevertheless he is the first option when building-up so it will be key to limit his actions.

The positioning overall is rather poor on both teams right now. In terms of Arsenal the players are often covering the wrong spaces so that they rely massively on Mesut Özil’s understanding of the particular situation.

Two attackers take the same path while two different players are present at the half-space. Scene from the game against Chelsea.

All connections to Mesut Özil, their key-player, should be avoided although he has had a season full of ups and downs. We are talking numbers like 2,9 created shooting opportunities per 90 minutes (2,3 in the Champions League), which are ok numbers but considering his standards it is far too little.

Over the past years he reached around 4 per game. However, he is the player who can make the difference, against Bayern as well.

Then there is the other prime player of the squad, FC Bayern needs to pay attention to – Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean is currently leading the Premier League score board with 17 goals so far this season. He had outstanding performances on the wings and as a central attacker. In which of the two roles he will play against Bayern will be depended on whether Iwobi or Giroud is starting.

Iwobi on one hand plays a solid season. His strengths are his technical abilities, his pace and his understanding of the game in comparison to Walcott, who will be starting regardless.

Giround on the other hand is a target player, who already has made some experiences with FC Bayern. He is the other realistic option to start.

Arsenal’s tactical approach over the past few years

Arsenal has an outstanding individual quality, which makes it possible to threaten opponents, when reaching up to their full potential. The system will be a 4-4-2 formation without the ball while enabling pressure from the half way line. Like in previous matchups, it is unlikely that Arsenal pressures higher up the field, although it should not be ruled out complete. Wenger surely has recognized FC Bayern’s problems with this kind of approach.

If Giroud, Özil and Sanchez will start, there will be open spaces on the wings on which one of them will have to drop back into midfield. Özil and Sanchez are not known for their impressive defensive work-rates. This will create holes in Arsenal’s 4-4-2. Due to these aspects, it’s not completely unthinkable that Wenger will bench Özil, to strengthen the midfield against the ball.

Despite good and bad performances, Mesut Özil is still the most important player at FC Arsenal.
(Image: Shaun Botterill / Getty Images)

Arsenal in general is organized very well but not on the highest level without possession.

If FC Bayern gets into their rhythm, they will be able to create something offensively for themselves. But that leads us to another dangerous feature of Wenger’s squad. Counter attacks. The Bavarian’s are well advised to look back at the last matchup at Emirates Stadium where Özil had a remarkable performance, initiating counter attack after counter attack and even finishing one himself.

Arsenal is capable to create something out of nothing. For them it will be key how they can cope with the pressure of the German record champion. If they manage to handle it well, the games might become unpleasant for the team of Carlo Ancelotti.

Sanchez and Giroud do not need many attempts to score and every away goal could be too much at this point.

It may be the biggest chance ever to beat FC Bayern, who is quite vulnerable at he moment. However the five-time Champions League winner already showed that they are able to perform on-point. Can they do it again?

The history of Carlo Ancelotti shows it quite well: Although the Italian has won some domestic titles, he is not the perfect coach for a full season. Rarely his teams were able to play consistently on a high level but when it comes to special occasions, they performed at their best. There is no better moment as of right now against Arsenal to show the full potential of this team.

Is flipping the switch really that easy?

It is hard to believe that the team is able to turn their performance level around from one day to another, but they already did it once. In the matchup against Leipzig, FC Bayern had their strongest game of the season. This gives us hope for Wednesday.

Nevertheless there are some doubts that cannot be left unnoticed. When initiating build-up play they get pushed out to the wings far too easily. From there on a lack of support often causes loss of possession. In addition to that they are not able to enable power over the centre, even with Thiago, who is back from injury.

Due to the poor structure, Hummels is repeatedly forced to play the ball wide to the wings.
(Image: Maja Hitij / Bongarts / Getty Images)

It seems like the team has no proper tactical solutions. The general loss of positional play still harms them too much. In midfield there is no control and because of bad link-ups it becomes too easy for the respective opponents to counter their usual passing play. As a result opponents are able to counter, which should be avoided on Wednesday by all means.

One-on-ones can become a two-way risk

Without the positional play, not only loss of possession, but the following defensive steps become more and more difficult. This is the case in one-on-one duels more than anywhere else on the pitch. For example Franck Ribéry was a weapon in the past with his outstanding dribbling abilities. Right now it is a risk as well.

He, just as Costa and Robben, is not protected by their teammates, when loosing the ball. Especially Costa and Ribéry tend to loose the ball quite often. Against Arsenal it will be key to be successful in duels as well as securing eventual turnovers and avoiding counter attacks.

A common scene this season: Costa is isolated, while his teammates are too far away to counter-pressure the opponent. A cross is also no option because there is no one to be found in the box. The whole team leaves too much space vacant for counter attacks.

Generally, FC Bayern needs to work more disciplined when not in possession. All defensive weaknesses over the past games may be avoided by pressuring effectively. In the game against Leipzig, they managed to do so perfectly and showed that it’s not completely gone.

A lot of running will be necessary to cover up all the weaknesses in positioning, while compactness will be important as well. In addition to that, when not in possession and without a chance to win the ball, both lines need to adjust quite well. Lately they did not managed to play up to those demands for the whole of 90 minutes.

Besides all of the defensive issues the offence is key on Wednesday. FC Bayern needs to rely on Thiago. He will be playing as a number 10 to support Lewandowski up front. For him it is necessary to create link ups with the other teammates and involve both wingers as well.

Arjen Robben and likely Douglas Costa cannot be left isolated for 90 minutes. They need to have options available to avoid bad crosses or dribbling, which lead to a loss of possession. Schalke for example managed to take them out of the game completely.

The target should be to get them into promising situations. Especially Robben’s performance may be a huge factor in both games against Arsenal.

Ancelotti’s chance to prove himself

All of the problems outlined above are just a small part of the whole situation. They are caused by tactical deficits Ancelotti displayed over the past weeks and months. He is certainly not the only factor in this misery, but all of his players need to step up and improve their performances.

However, the coaching staff has to take a lot of responsibility as well. Ancelotti is known to be a “Champions League coach”. Now is the time to prove himself to all his critics that he is able to up the performance level from 0 to 100.

If he is able to do so, all of the bad performances over the past few weeks are legitimated and it will seem like he has known better for the whole time.

Carlo Ancelotti is celebrating his quiet leadership. He’s been in these situations before.
(Foto: Marc Mueller / Bongarts / Getty Images)

The game on Wednesday can be the turning point of a weird season. But it can also be the end to all the sugar-coating regarding bad performances. It is simply a do-or-die match. By looking back at FC Bayern’s history, those games were the ones that had a lasting impression – most of the times a positive one.

Five bold predictions

  1. FC Bayern will win the game.
  2. Arsenal will score at least once
  3. Lewandowski will score at least once as well.
  4. Thomas Müller will not start.
  5. Arjen Robben will take part in at least one goal.

Only one true bold prediction from the Ingolstadt preview. Overall score: 66/130.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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