Arsenal and Bayern Munich faced off once again in the Champions League and it was a familiar tale in terms of the final outcome. The match progressed a whole lot differently to last season but Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller were once again on the scoresheet and a two goal advantage was maintained, going into the second leg.
Arsenal 0-2 Bayern Munich
Starting Line Ups:
Arsenal: Szczesny (sent off 37′), Mertsesacker, Koscielny, Sagna, Gibbs (Monreal 31′), Flamini, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Rosicky 74′), Cazorla (Fabianski 38′), Ozil, Sanogo
Bayern Munich: Neuer, Lahm, Alaba, Boateng (Rafinha 45′), Dante, Martinez, Kroos, Thiago (Pizaro 79′), Robben, Gotze, Mandzukic (Muller 64′)
Bayern exploit the right flank and create space centrally, as Ozil/Cazorla struggle
Although Arsenal made a fairly decent case for themselves, Bayern weren’t the inferior of the two sides. They had some guile in attack themselves, especially down the right-hand side. Captain Philipp Lahm had a crucial part to play combining with Mario Gotze. The ex-Dortmund man moved to a more narrow role as the attack advanced further forward and towards the Bayern box; Lahm would join up and provide width, effectively taking up the position of a winger. Gotze would then naturally move more narrow, allowing Lahm to run down the flanks. Gotze exploited the wide areas of the box, constantly making runs into that channel looking for a through ball.
This was a regular feature in the first half, something that Cazorla struggled to deal with. With two men constantly exploiting the right flank, Santi Cazorla was required to provide assistance to Kieran Gibbs while also adequately participating in attack. This universality of roles is something the Spaniard couldn’t deal with. Gibbs injury proved costly as well, his replacement Monreal did a decent job but had issues maintaining his line and tracking players. Cazorla was taken off when Sczcesny received his red, and Ozil was pushed to the left side but he too struggled to deal with the right flank. A huge 41% of Bayern’s attack was conjured up from the right side.
Guardiola saw the opportunity that the right flank was providing and decided to further exploit the area. Jerome Boateng who had already been booked when he conceded the penalty, and made a rash challenge moments later on Wilshere prompting the referee to give him a final warning, was taken off and replaced by Rafinha. Another master stroke by Bayern’s Spanish manager, retaining just one natural centre-back for the second half, who was flanked by two full-backs on either side, while Lahm shifted between an advanced wide and central role.
Guardiola identified the need to stretch play and widen Bayern’s attack, given that Arsenal were down to 10 men, and thus used Arsenal’s defensive frailty on the right to full advantage. Rafinha naturally slotted into the right flank and as Arsenal sat back, inviting Bayern forward, Rafinha duly obliged occupying a wide right midfield position. Lahm was pushed further ahead of him and the two took turns to run down the flank. Lahm eventually started playing a more narrow game, replicating what Gotze did, but not necessarily running into the box enough. Robben was shifted from the left to the right and he further stretched play. The Dutchman was not restricted to the right but was given a level of creative freedom.
The men who looked to benefit most were Toni Kroos and Mario Gotze. 21-yr-old Gotze was now deployed in his more favourable central role. With Bayern stretching play, Arsenal had to constantly shift to the wide areas to prevent them from having time and space on the ball in this dangerous area. It consequently opened up time and space in the central area which Gotze looked to exploit, but Kroos eventually benefited from. Arsenal struggled to cover the wide areas and replicate that in central areas as quickly as Bayern’s attack.
Having said that, Bayern didn’t do enough to exploit this central position as they could have. For large parts they seemed lost for ideas and a one dimensional attacking approach. Both the goals though, eventually, came in that form with Kroos free in the central area for the first goal and space opening up for Muller to put Bayern two goals to the good (there was more to the second goal though, explained later).
Toni Kroos’ performance
Every side requires a man in the middle to provide a balance to the side. With Bayern stretching play, players were positioned plenty on either side as Guardiola identified this as the attacking outlet. But the side required a man in the middle to provide a balance and ensure that the entire unit is tied together.
Toni Kroos played this role at the Emirates, positioned centrally, he acted as the stand point for the Bayern side, with the ball constantly played to him from the wide areas when there was a lack of opening. The defence didn’t punt a long ball over the top but instead played the ball short to Kroos in the middle. He then started the attack by spreading play into wide areas. It didn’t seem like a highlight role to play, but it was arguably the most vital role in the side. In fact, one will go as far as saying that Kroos was the main man for Bayern, the most important player which was reflected in his man of the match performance.
Kroos didn’t venture forward often (except for a couple of runs wide in the first half), forcing himself to resist the temptation, but when that gap did open up as Bayern players pulled the Arsenal defence into wide areas, Kroos identified the opportunity and made calculated runs into the area. As the game wore on this gap kept growing and was a regular feature, Kroos thus looked to take advantage as much as possible. The space allowed him enough time to get a sweet strike on goal, as he did early on in the match being denied by a superb Sczcesny save, eventually rewarded with a goal in the second and denied by the post late on.
Those three opportunities were the only 3 shots he took on goal out of 5 attempted ones, the highest on the pitch. He even created 3 goal-scoring opportunities, including the one leading up to the sending off. He didn’t have much to do defensively with Arsenal pegged back, his positioning though was vital for the outcome. He did manage to make 2 interceptions.
His passing, as mentioned, was an important factor in Bayern’s approach. The 24-year-old completed 152 passes (the entire Arsenal side completed 222 passes) at a 97% completion rate. A remarkable performance from the German.
Koscielny run proves costly
Arsenal were doing a superb job of keeping Bayern Munich at bay with 10 men for the entire second half. Bayern although in control, had just one plan and it failed to breach the Arsenal defence who were disciplined in their approach. From Sanogo till the back four, the entire side was set up to prevent Bayern from getting more on the scoresheet. There wasn’t much in terms of a counter option from the London club.
But there was a moment in the second half, cheered on by the Arsenal fans in the stadium as Laurent Koscielny showed immense heart and determination, fueled from pure frustration as he blocked a Bayern attack and took the resulting ball and ran at the Germans. Realising he couldn’t possibly dribble past three-four Bayern players, he drew a foul on the half-way line and made his way further forward, along with a few other Arsenal players. The Arsenal midfield naturally moved further up, tempted by the chance of playing in the attacking half, along with Sanogo. It was arguably the only moment for the last 30-40 minutes of the game where Arsenal actually ventured forward, even in the slightest. It was the first period in the match where Bayern could attack a defence that wasn’t as compact.
Arsenal took the free-kick from the half-way line and quickly lost possession, Neuer identified the opportunity quickly getting the ball forward. While Bayern still lacked the urgency in their attack, they were able to take advantage of the comparitive lack of personnel in defence. A gap opened up in the heart of the Arsenal defence, Lahm playing a pinpoint pass to that area allowing substitute Muller to score the second. That gap opened up due to fact that Koscienly wasn’t able to get back into position in time from his attacking run. Kocienly was instead at the edge of the box with Flamini occupying his position, and was unable to prevent the goal, with the Bayern movement proving to be decisive.
It’s these small incidents that big sides take advantage of, and Bayern Munich made no mistake. At 1-0 Arsenal still had hope, and despite their result at the Allianz Arena last season, 2-0 will be difficult. That second goal could make the World of difference and it showed on Guardiola’s face, he identified the need for two away goals and that little run from Koscielny proving to be costly. This was just a small blip in Koscielny’s performance, who was excellent, but at this level it’s these sort of small errors that prove decisive.
Monreal’s fault in Szczesny’s sending off
A lot has been debated and discussed about whether Szczesny deserved to be sent off, a move which arguably changed the face of the match. The general consensus is that it was a penalty, with Per Mertesacker accepting it post-match as well, but there were questions about the straight red for the clumsy challenge.
Leaving those discussions aside, reviewing the incident, one can’t help but state that that chance shouldn’t have arised at all. Arjen Robben played a short pass to Toni Kroos in the centre, and the midfielder quickly played a delightful ball over the defence to match Robben’s run from the give-and-go. Now Robben was well onside but Nacho Monreal shouldn’t have let Robben make that run. As a defender, it was his job to track the Dutchman’s movement and prevent him from getting a clean touch towards goal. It was a schoolboy error that allowed Robben to swift past the Arsenal back-line.
The smallest lack of concentration can prove decisive, and Arsenal paid a hefty price for Monreal’s error in judgement. It was again, a small error, but that sending off prevented Arsenal from going forward and taking this game, and ultimately allowed Bayern to run away with it. Two small incidents, two huge repercussions.
Where does this leave them?
Arsenal will have it all to do in the second leg. They will be encouraged by their performance there last season. It’s a difficult game to turnaround, but they’ll have to ‘believe’.
For Bayern, they’ll do their utmost to ensure there isn’t a repeat of last season. Guardiola is not someone who will allow another 2-0 defeat at home against the same side. A tactical battle will ensue, and for neutrals – an attacking display from both ends.
For more detailed Tactical Analysis on big games as this one, head this way.