October 20, 2015 By Fabian Odhiambo
So, as we count down hours to the big Champions League tie between Arsenal and Bayern Munich tonight at the Emirates, our correspondent Fridah with a template bearing ten pointers that Arsene Wenger and his boys have to implement if they are to beat the Pep Guardiola-led Germans. I can only wish her all the luck in the world because she and Arsenal will need it. Shhhh! The Germans are coming!
This is the big question. There are many ways to kill a witch that won’t drown (I was going to say skin a cat but I don’t understand why anyone would want to skin a cat, that’s disgusting and cats are adorable, also witches are evil so it makes sense to kill them and who tries to drown a witch though?). Anyway, I digress.
So, really? How can Arsenal beat Bayern Munich? Can Arsenal even beat Bayern Munich? I believe so.
The first alternative would be to bomb their plane but I figure it’s too late for this now and I bet this would be regarded as terrorism. Bombing their hotel would probably be terrorist too. Maybe bioterrorism would go unnoticed, but I doubt this is the solution.
So, this has to be done on a football field. Arsenal are all but out of the Champions League. A win against Munich guarantees nothing but it could be good for the confidence levels of the players for the EPL title charge. Also, it would be good for Arsenal fans. ‘We beat Bayern’ is something we like saying a lot.
Back to the elephant in the room… Bayern Munich under Pep are like a chameleon cheetah. They are a side that play beautiful football and they can also adapt to any style. Pep is the master of change. He has a counter to your counter, an answer for any question you ask and a question for any answer you have. This means that it will be hard for Arsenal, extremely hard.
Bayern’s main style this season has been the dangerous wing play. They overload one side by pulling the opponent’s players to that side, then switch the ball horizontally. This isolates the defender on the opposite flank in a 1v1 or 2v1. Bayern have players who can excel in a 1v1 situation and this is something that Arsenal will have to avoid. This has been their main style, I said. However, they are such an adaptable team. They have verticality, horizontality, diagonality, plurality, simplicity and I could go on and on but the applicability of some words to football will be in doubt.
This is a great Bayern team. It is a team to be admired. Not just their style of play but even their model of operation. How many teams are able to rebuild and avoid a transition phase? They’ve won all their matches so far this season and they seem to have wrapped up the title already. However, this is not to say that they are not beatable. I think they can be beaten and this will take a lot of energy and determination but it is possible.
Here is how Arsenal can do it:
- The players need to turn up
How often do Arsenal play and the fans feel that the players were not just in the game? Very often, I must say. There are those days they don’t feel like running the extra yard, playing the right pass, stretching a little bit extra. They are just there for the sake of appearance. Well, that can’t happen today. The players need to have a great attitude and the fighting spirit to get a result against Bayern. They need to turn up. Mesut Özil, Aaron Ramsey, Santiago Cazorla, Theo Walcott… all of them need to turn up. Otherwise there is no point in anything.
- Understand the style Bayern is using and react to them, then react to their reaction and again react to their counter-action
As I said, Bayern don’t have just one style of play. They change from style A to style B when style A does not work. This means that Arsenal have to understand what is happening and react to that. It’s something like changing with the weather. If it’s hot, you drink water and dress light. If it’s cold, you get out all your heavy jumpers. You don’t wear a jumper always.
- Understand where the threat is coming from
With their different styles of play, it means that Bayern have different threats. All the threats end mostly with Lewandowski or Muller but mostly the former. This means that Arsenal have to stop the ball getting to these two. When they play wide, the wide men and the full backs have to be stopped. When they play the passing game, slow building then Thiago and Alonso should be stopped. The team should be able to read the ball and make interceptions. Basically, we should be able to adapt.
- The striker needs to work hard
Walcott or whoever starts as centre forward will need to be very aggressive. Bayern have the best ball playing defender in the world, Jerome Boateng. His long vertical balls were the undoing of Borussia Dortmund. He places these perfect balls behind the defence and in front of the goalkeeper so perfectly that the goalkeeper cannot come to collect and the defenders can’t reach it and Lewy just has to finish. Arsenal’s defence will have to be led by the attackers.
The Gunners will need to find a balance between attack and defence. Do either too much and we are doomed. They should also strike a balance between defending too deep and defending too high. The former may lead to mistakes such as penalties and free kicks (and we can’t defend these, can we?), while the latter will leave us extremely exposed at the back and the result can only be one.
- Hate the ball
Bayern’s switch of play is excellent. They usually hold the ball on one side and attract the opponents to that side, like moths to the light. The ball is then switched to the other side where there is usually one defender against 1 or 2 Bayern attackers. Following the ball too much by many players will leave too much space. The Arsenal players should hold their position with discipline. If David Alaba has the ball, Ramsey has to be on him, not Ramsey, Francis Coquelin, Cazorla, Hector Bellerin and all of them.
- Identify the weaknesses in Bayern
Yes, yes. They seem perfect. They have weaknesses too. They are just good at masking them. Players with the ability of Mesut and Alexis Sanchez can easily see the spaces and exploit them. Javi Martinez is one such player. Pressing him could offer a chance for a goal. The team needs to play as an actual team.
- Move the ball quickly
Bayern love having the ball. This means that even though we are at home, we’ll have significantly less possession on the ball. However, when we have the ball, we should move it quick. No dilly-dallying on the ball like we are waiting for it to change shape or give instructions. This may help us catch Bayern by surprise. The pace of Alexis and Walcott can be deadly against Bayern.
- Don’t tire out
Bayern have quality press-resistant players especially Alcantara and Philipp Lahm. Their own version of Cazorla. This means that pressing them will just tire the players out. The players should just ensure that the end of the supply line is invisible. Don’t allow the recipient of their passes to get the ball. The players have to be ready to pounce. Anticipation is key here.
10. The Three P’s
No, not pace, power and passion…okay maybe a little pace and some passion. However, the three P’s that are of utmost importance are Patience, Poise and Precision. These three P’s can give us all the three points if the team does so perfectly and professionally (does this make them 5 Ps now? I don’t know!). Everyone needs to give their best. When Arsenal players are at their best, they can beat anybody, even the mighty Bayern.
Of course I’m saying all this in the hopes that Wenger selects the best team available. Ideally, it should be the team that started against Watford with one change Cech – Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal- Coquelin, Cazorla- Ramsey, Mesut, Alexis – Walcott.
Anyhow, whoever starts should be able to do the job.
Let’s do this Gunners.