February 22, 2017

Bayern Munich Come Alive in Champions League Thrashing of Arsenal

If you haven’t been keeping up, Bayern Munich has turned in some very frustrating performances leading up to their Champions League Round of 16 tie with Arsenal.  And while the first half at Fussball Arena Muenchen looked to be much of the same sort of ponderous football die Roten fans now expect, the second half proved a glut of offense not seen since their Bundesliga season opening pasting of Werder Bremen.

Is this 5:1 mauling the fabled Carlo Ancelotti turn where Bayern come in to their own at exactly the right time in the season? Or Wednesday’s scoreline merely a product of a shambolic Arsenal squad?  Signs point to a bit of both in my thoughts.

Don’t forget the first half.

In the presser following the match, Ancelotti enthused: “We played fantastic football.”  At times, I’d certainly agree– most of it in the second half.  However, in the first half, Bayern’s defense was caught ball-watching for Alexis Sanchez’ rebound goal after Manuel Neuer’s penalty save and the rocketed shot minutes later from Granit Xhaka.  Munich’s defense has been far too passive this season, whether it is tactics or interest or boredom or what-have-you.

Arjen Robben ardently spoke on Sanchez’ opener, telling the assembled press post-match that you risk your lives for the ball after your keeper saves a penalty.

While Bayern did not allow a lot of possession in the first period, they did allow Arsenal to counter effectively– something that Ancelotti’s version of Bayern has been guilty of all season.  Arsenal would end the first– highly contentious– half up on shots on goal despite having a beggar’s 20% of the ball.

Laurent Koscielny is the glue that keeps Arsenal together.

As good as the Reds’ second-period assault on David Ospina’s goal was, it may not have necessarily happened but for Koscielny limping off minutes in to the second 45’.  Gabriel Paulista replaced him somewhat effectively, yet Bayern capitalized– switching to a relentless offense that neither he nor Shkodran Mustafi could get a handle on.

If it wasn’t Robert Lewandowski towering over the German CB for his header, it was Thiago Alcantara splitting the pair like butter for the first of his brace.  Even Thomas Mueller could (finally!) get in on the action with his late appearance after Thiago deftly traipsed through a deflated, wooden Arsenal box.

Don’t count the old guys out just yet.

Plenty of people (myself definitely included) pondered Ancelotti’s choice to start Xabi Alonso for his sixth consecutive match, and the consummate veteran midfielder laughed in all of our faces; delivering a fine performance.  (Saying that, some credit must be given to the Gunners’ inept midfield, too.)

Alonso’s dashboard courtesy of Four Four Two.

Meanwhile, a pair of 30+ year-old guys in Robben and Philipp Lahm dominated the right flank.  Kieran Gibbs was wholly outclassed by the pensioners while Francis Coquelin– tasked with stepping in the right direction when Robben cut inside– stepped wrong for another prototypical Robben goal.

Bayern’s captain will miss the tie in London after seeing yellow for a tactical foul on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but no matter.  Rafinha continues to be a highly underrated option in his place.  Instead, Lahm was buoyant, cheeky even, in answering why he and Robben were given so much space to operate on the right:  “Perhaps they thought we were too old.”

What does this all mean?

People that have stars in their eyes over Ancelotti and his “flip the switch at the right time” ethos will continue to do so.  And, indeed, a 5:1 performance is always encouraging.  Saying that, I’ve seen bottom-half Bundesliga sides give a more inspired performance than these disappointedly hapless Gunners, so I will hold out on any grand statement.

This is a very small subset of the fabled Ancelotti curve, and I am excited to see what’s next.  Can Bayern capitalize on this?  Or is it back to the doldrums?

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Susie Schaaf

Susie Schaaf first fell in love with football watching Gerd Mueller play for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. She has written extensively about the DFB and Bayern Munich, formerly for ESPN FC and now with FC Bayern Central. She co-hosts @Rekord_Pod, as well as speaking on SiriusXM FC and BBC World Service. In her free time she travels, pours a drink or two, and watches more football. The girl that kissed Gerd's Golden Boot can be found on Twitter @fussballsusie.

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