Tag Archives: Arsenal v. Bayern

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Arsenal v. Bayern: Per and Poldi are here to pump YOU up

There’s a football match scheduled for today, Arsenal host presumptive German champions Bayern in a Champions League match at the Emirates, but to read the papers one might be forgiven if they hardly noticed the game through the treacle.

It’s been a tough week to be a fan of Arsenal football club. Not only was the team knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn in a dreadfully predictable way but the subsequent fallout from the press, pundits, and some fans has piled on more pressure.

Arsene Wenger, in particular, was the target of calumny by The Sun reporter Phil Thomas who (after a brief search of some of his Arsenal related stories) has almost never printed a truth about Arsenal. This time Phil Thomas printed a story designed to foment anger among the Arsenal fans who have started openly expressing their hatred for Arsene Wenger. The Sun story claimed that Arsene was on the verge of signing a new two year contract and this prompted reporters to ask Arsene if the story was true at his press conference. Wenger responded angrily calling the reports “lies” and asking for the gathered press to show him some respect.

And now the knives are out. The BBC is running an amazing audio interview with disgraced former Arsenal employee Stuart Robson in which the pundit (who works the color commentary for many Arsenal matches) publicly admits that he would like to see Arsene Wenger lose his job. It’s a grotty interview in which Robson reads a laundry list of complaints about the manager: the interview starts out with a character assassination of Arsene Wenger at press conferences saying that if he doesn’t like a question he goes on the assault because he doesn’t handle criticism and from there it’s the usual stuff about the manager being tactically inept.

Robson was never really objective about Arsenal and has now crossed the line from pretending to be objective to outright absurdly subjective. I can’t stand him as a pundit and never could, his insight into the game is decades behind people like Michael Cox and his commentary is always anti-Arsenal. Worse, it doesn’t matter what game he is commenting on, he tries to work in a jab at Arsenal. He is absurd and the BBC should be ashamed of putting him on their show to spout his clownish views of the club.

That’s not to say that Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are beyond reproach. Losing as they did to Blackburn was as predictable as Lindsey Lohan getting a DUI and twice as ugly. Blackburn didn’t do much of anything in the game and came away with the points. They have been given plaudits for their defending but they didn’t even have to do that very well. Arsenal simply looked lackluster for far too long in that game and of course the manager and players are to blame for that. It’s a complaint that I and others have leveled all season.

I’m fairly certain that Arsene Wenger isn’t telling his team to take it easy for 80 minutes. And especially not against clubs like Blackburn who he knows will sit back and try to soak up pressure. And even if Arsene Were to give that speech from Any Given Sunday that everyone seems to love the impetus to stay in the game and to drive the team forward still has to come from the players on the pitch.

And it’s exactly that kind of drive on the pitch which I think will be the deciding factor today. I looked at the numbers yesterday for Arseblog News and when it comes to Champions League fixtures there really isn’t much between the two teams. Bayern have played very well in the Bundesliga this season (most notably, they are a “defense through possession” team and they have only allowed 1 goal in all of their domestic away games) but their away form in the Champions League has been pretty poor and that form came against some rather poor competition, I might add.

It should be a fascinating match because both teams tend to play such a similar style of football. If anything, Bayern look to cross the ball more than Arsenal and tend to hit more long balls. With the whole world expecting Bayern to dominate possession we could see them try to sit back and hit Arsenal on the counter. With the quality that Bayern have up front, counter attacking could be a very effective technique against Arsenal and while I know I will get stick for suggesting it, other possession-type teams like Swansea have ceded possession to Arsenal so it’s not impossible.

Of course, the other possibility is an Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona style match. Arsenal conceded possession to Barcelona in that match (66%) but ended up getting off more shots and getting off the same number of shots on goal. A lot of folks, like Robson, who say that Wenger doesn’t do tactics have a hard time justifying that criticism in the face of that game, where Wenger deliberately played the rope-a-dope against Barcelona. Wenger is frustratingly pig-headed about his approach to games but he is far from intransigent as many think.

Or we could see a battle royale. If Bayern come out and try to take the game and Arsenal do the same, we could end up seeing a 50-50 possession, loads of shots on both goals, type of open game that pretty much everyone in the whole world wants to see. That kind of wild game that it seems like only Arsenal can have.

I like the last option not just because it would be exciting but because it would give the press something else to write about for a change.

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Arsenal v. Bayern: let’s give them a night to remember

It’s the final stages of the Champions League and Arsenal have drawn Bayern Munich. Whether you consider that a shame because Arsenal’s rather poor record in this competition put them in this pot rather than in the champions pot is not important. The important thing is that “sorting things out” has begun and plans are being laid for me to make a trip to Bavaria to see the Arsenal play Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.

As I said above, Arsenal drew Bayern because of an admittedly poor record in the Champions League this season. Finishing runners up in a group which featured Montpellier and Olympiakos was an unexpected result but one which was born from the fact that Arsenal simply didn’t play very well. In the group stages Arsenal allowed 14.5 shots per game (ranked 23rd) and only managed to attempt 7.8 shots per game (ranked 31st). Arsenal did manage more than 53% possession and a pass rate in the mid-80s which is good enough to be in the middle of the top tier for those two stats. And Arsenal were #1 ranked in one category, aerial duels won per game with 18.5. But all of Arsenal’s stats took a major drop from the levels we see in the Premier League where Arsenal are the kings of possession and passing.

Meanwhile, Bayern were simply excellent in winning their group just as they have been excellent in the Bundesliga, having lost just one game all season in all competitions. In the Champions League, Bayern ranked first in crosses per game, third in all the other passing stats, first in goals from set pieces (4), second in possession (61%), 4th in shots on goal, and third best in shots allowed. Moreover, Bayern play exactly the kind of football that Arsenal are supposed to be renown for: possession hoarding football, short passes, maintaining possession in the opposition half, and attempting lots of defense-splitting through balls.

It’s an understatement to say that this is going to be a tough test for Arsenal. Bayern are favorites and they know it.

Thomas Müller was phlegmatic in his assessment that “It’s a nice draw against interesting opponents who are not impossible to overcome.” And Karl-Heinz Rummenigge matter of factly added that “We can be satisfied with this draw but can’t underestimate them. It’s important to try to get a good result in London; to get a goal and make a bit of a statement. We can do it, we’re going into this tie as favorites.”

Gunners will have to hang their hats on the fact that Bayern do have a bit of a spotty record when it comes to playing against English teams as Raphael Honigstein pointed out in his BBC column this morning. Well, it’s a spotty record against all the English teams but Arsenal. Bayern have played Arsenal four times in the last 15 years and have won 2, drawn 1 and lost 1.

I remember the series from 2005 well. It was the end of the Invincibles era, though we didn’t know it, and on everyone’s mind was the fact that Arsene Wenger had never won the Champions League. Before the game, all the papers were focused on the duel between Jens Lehmann and Oliver Khan and hopes were high for a good result in Bavaria. But Arsenal put it a torrid display and a poor clearance from Kolo Toure gave Bayern the lead almost from the first kick of the game. Arsenal would run out 3-1 losers that night and a fortnight later needed a 2-0 win to go through. The Gunners only managed one goal, from Henry, and despite a much better performance from Kolo Toure couldn’t get through to the next round.

It was such a bitterly disappointing first leg that I remember thinking that Arsenal would never win the Champions League. Ironically, they made the final the next year, after losing Patrick Vieira in the summer to Juventus.

Bayern is going to be more than just a tough test for Arsenal. They have a great mix of young players and experienced older players who should know how to get a result on the road in London. Most pundits will be focusing on Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben but their two younger players, Müller and Kroos, are just as dangerous.

Müller was reportedly a target for Arsenal this summer and for good reason, he leads Bayern in goals and assists. Kroos is a versatile midfielder who plays on both sides of the pitch when needed and through the middle the remainder. Both players are great with the ball at feet, in space, can cross, split the defense with a slide-rule pass, and when needed can break down a defender with a dribble.

The Bavarians are talking like they plan to take the game to Arsenal in the first leg and I think that can work to Arsenal’s advantage. Let them be over-confident and “humblebrag” about how they are wary of Arsenal as underdogs. It’s that kind of cocksure talk that makes good players like Wilshere and Cazorla up their games and give these mouthy Germans a night to remember.

I remember that second leg in 2005, Arsenal were all but written off. Then Thierry Henry scored late and Arsenal needed just one more goal to win the tie. Lehmann made a fantastic save off a powerful Ballack blast and that last 20 minutes was some of the most exciting football I’ve ever seen. I’m sure that everyone in that stadium that night will never forget that game.

Let’s do it again.

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