Arsenal 0-2 Bayern: Bayern dominant down the right, especially after Arsenal reduced to ten

February 20, 2014

The starting line-ups

Arsenal started excellently but Bayern increasingly demonstrated their superiority.

Arsene Wenger made the surprise decision to continue with Yaya Sanogo upfront – the Frenchman had only made his full debut in the weekend win over Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola also named a surprise XI, with Javi Martinez in the side and Philipp Lahm back in his old right-back role. Thomas Muller was only on the bench.

Arsenal were excellent for the first 10 minutes, but after Mesut Ozil’s missed penalty Bayern grew into the game, and were completely dominant after Wojciech Szczesny’s red card.

Arsenal start brightly

It eventually proved irrelevant, but Arsenal were superb for the opening ten minutes, creating three or four genuinely dangerous moments when breaking quickly and purposefully in behind the Bayern defence, who were completely exposed and positioned too high.

Various Arsenal players contributed – Sanogo won his first aerial challenge and made some good bursts into the channels, Ozil drifted around to find pockets of space between the lines and towards the flanks, while Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs all burst past opposition challenges as Bayern tried to press Arsenal aggressively, without success.

Ozil

Arsenal’s main man in the opening stages was Ozil, who drove forward on the break, seemingly because Martinez, in the holding role, was pushing up to pressure Wilshere rather than keeping it tight between the lines. Ozil also drifted into a left-sided position at one point, picking out Cazorla cleverly on the edge of the box, and then stormed directly through the defence to win the penalty. This was Ozil at his best: direct in possession, running in behind and drifting out wide, the variety that makes him so dangerous.

The penalty miss was obviously a negative for Arsenal in itself, but Ozil being the culprit was was particularly problematic – it seemed to affect his confidence, and thereafter he wasn’t such a catalyst for Arsenal’s attacking moves.

Bayern high line

The whole of Europe has been wondering precisely where Bayern’s weakness is – the opening to this match suggests it’s at the back. The centre-backs both played poorly, rushing into tackles and taking up extraordinarily advanced defensive positions.

Arsenal were able to break their defensive line easily, albeit generally in the channels rather than in direct goalscoring positions – Sanogo did so, Ozil did so, and even Cazorla, a player whose major weakness is his lack of pace, got in behind down the right.

It was also obvious at free-kicks – one of Arsenal’s few promising moments in the second half was when Laurent Koscielny collected a high, lobbed free-kick unmarked, but couldn’t quite spin and shoot. There are certainly merits to pushing so high up the pitch, but it requires good decision-making from the centre-backs, which wasn’t always obvious here. Boateng was booked for his penalty concession, and later committed a foul on Wilshere inside the opposition third, a bizarre piece of positioning and a completely avoidable challenge when on a yellow.

Bayern possession

From the tenth minute, Bayern controlled possession. Although he wasn’t the star man, and his positioning had arguably been responsible for Arsenal’s early dominance, Martinez was the man who started this. Located between Arsenal’s lines of midfield and attack, he simply had freedom and was allowed to slow the tempo, although it was Toni Kroos who eventually found space most intelligently, and controlled the game better.

Bayern’s first attack after the penalty miss suggested where they were going to win the game – Mario Gotze received the ball in a right-of-centre position, and Lahm overlapped energetically, with Ozil and Cazorla both positioned centrally. Lahm didn’t actually receive the pass, but Arsenal’s lack of protection for Kieran Gibbs down that flank was worrying.

It was interesting that Guardiola started Arjen Robben on the left, with Gotze tucked inside on the right. This naturally encouraged Lahm forward, but things became particularly problematic for Arsenal when Robben drifted across to that side from his wing. Clearly, Robben favours that flank and it’s difficult to know whether this was part of Guardiola’s tactical plan, or whether the Dutchman was ignoring his instructions.

It’s hard to believe Guardiola wouldn’t go mad at Robben if he played so far out of position, but it’s equally difficult to imagine Guardiola would abandon his obsessed of covering lateral space efficiently, and retaining width on both flanks.

Arsenal problems down left

Clearly, Arsenal had problems down that flank – and circumstances didn’t help. There were two separate blows: Kieran Gibbs’ injury meant Nacho Monreal came onto replace him, and later Wojciech Szczesny’s dismissal meant Wenger removed Cazorla.

However, Ozil had already been switched to the left because Cazorla wasn’t tracking Lahm effectively. Arsenal started with Gibbs-Cazorla and were soon playing with Monreal-Ozil down that side, a completely unfamiliar partnership against Bayern’s strongest area.

Kroos control

The red card had a huge impact on the game, of course, and the penalty incident was one of many incidents that demonstrated Toni Kroos’ superb quality on the ball. For much of the match he was careful and reliable with his passing – his final total was a snooker-style 147.

But he also produced some wonderful incisive passes, particularly the ball in behind for Robben for the penalty decision. It was an excellently weighted chip, although Robben’s now customary dart in behind from the right flank was something Arsenal should have been alert too.

Kroos was a consistent threat from long-range, too – testing Szczesny with an early thunderbolt, whipping in a superb opener and hitting the post late on. He was the game’s dominant player.

Guardola switch down right

At half-time Guardiola reshuffled his defence. Boateng was taken off, Martinez was moved back into defence, Lahm was shifted into his (now) regular central midfield slot, and Rafinha was introduced down the right.

The line-ups for the start of the second half - substitutes highlighted

This had two effects. First, it meant Bayern no longer had to worry about Boateng collecting a second yellow card – Guardiola would have been aware of the importance of keeping the numerical advantage over Arsenal.

Second, it made Bayern even more threatening down the right. Rafinha played even more advanced than Lahm, almost in the role Daniel Alves played for Barcelona the previous evening, while Lahm also helped attack down that flank, despite nominally being the holding midfielder.

With Arsenal fielding two deep central midfielders, and no real from the number ten position, Bayern effectively played without a permanent holder and Lahm continually joined in attacks.

Arsenal withstand pressure centrally

With ten men, Arsenal were quite solid in central positions. They were rarely opened up between the lines because Mathieu Flamini and Jack Wilshere covered for each other well – when one moved up the pitch to close down, the other dropped behind to protect the defence if his teammate was beaten.

At the back, too, Mandzukic didn’t provide too many problems for Arsenal’s centre-backs, although they were troubled more by runners from deep. In fact, the penalty concession showed Arsenal were a little exposed both in front of, and behind, that defensive ’square’.

The problem was on the flanks, though. Arsenal naturally tired because the wide midfielders had to support Sanogo when possible, then get back into position. Having been forced into two early changes, Wenger could only bring on one remaining substitute:  Tomas Rosicky for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was removed because he’d picked up an injury earlier in the game. It was surprising Wenger didn’t introduce Rosicky down the left, however, switching Ozil right, considering the Czech midfielder is hard-working defensively and not afraid of a tackle.

Bayern make the breakthrough

Bayern continued to focus their play down the right flank. Robben’s movement was superb – he stretched the play by exploiting the space out wide when the ball was on the opposite flank, then cut inside onto his left foot, opening up space on the overlap.

At points, both Lahm and Rafinha were seeking to overlap past Robben, and with Ozil switching off a couple of times, it seemed certain the breakthrough would come from that side – Arsenal simply couldn’t get numbers out to the flank to cope with that Robben-Lahm-Rafinha triangle, especially without leaving Kroos and Thiago free.

In the end, Lahm set up Kroos for a wondergoal, and also played the cross for Muller’s header later. He was the second outstanding player behind Kroos – they both passed the ball reliably but provided the penetration when required, too.

Bayern go for the second

The most admirable aspect of Bayern’s performance here, however, was that they weren’t content with 1-0. Whereas last night in a very similar situation, Barcelona were content with that margin of victory and Gerardo Martino simply made straight swaps (granted, Alves did double the lead in the final minute), Guardiola went for the kill.

Having already switched his striker, bringing on Muller for Mario Mandzukic, he made a clearly attacking substitution with ten minutes to go. Now confident his side could control midfield with only two men, he removed Thiago and brought on an extra striker, Claudio Pizarro.

Now, for the first time, Arsenal’s centre-backs were defending 2 v 2, and this proved crucial in Muller’s late headed goal – Pizarro made a superb run to drag Per Mertesacker out of position, forcing the Arsenal centre-backs to switch positions and creating a gap for Muller to dart into, his speciality.

It’s worth watching the replay to see Muller’s awareness of Pizarro’s decoy run, too – as soon as he sees Pizarro’s movement, he immediately runs the opposite way, and raises his arm to invite Lahm’s cross. Interestingly, as the goal goes in, Pizarro immediately glances over towards the bench, rather than any of his teammates, perhaps suggesting that he’d done precisely what Guardiola had asked.

Conclusion

This game had an almost identical pattern to Barcelona’s win over Manchester City the previous evening – a game-changing red card, complete possession dominance from the away side, and a late goal to kill the tie.

Arsenal actually started brightly and this seemed a perfect match for Ozil to shine – his positioning and movement in the opening ten minutes was fantastic, but his penalty miss was disastrous for Arsenal, not merely because they didn’t score, but because their key player was affected.

Centrally Arsenal were solid, but out wide they visibly tired and conceding goals from their left flank seemed inevitable. Guardiola’s half-time switch was (probably) primarily to guard against a Boateng red card, but it meant his side played with two natural right-backs, and both helped overload Arsenal in that crucial zone.

The late change to introduce Pizarro was excellent, however – a great example of a manager making the most of a numerical advantage. The importance of that away goal is huge – it’s the difference between Bayern having a good lead, and Bayern being out of sight.


Arsenal 0-2 Bayern: Bayern dominant down the right, especially after Arsenal reduced to ten

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