Bayern Munich took took a big step in sealing qualification to the quarterfinals with an impressive away win against Arsenal. It was Bayern’s first ever win in London and thoroughly deserved on the run of play. Germany’s record champions dominated the majority of the match and again showed why they are one of the favorites to lift the trophy come May.
Goals from Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and Mario Mandzukic capped off a performance that further underlines just how focused and determined Bayern are to succeed this season, putting them firmly in the the driver’s seat in this tie. It took a fortuitous corner to get Arsenal back in the game in the second half with former Bayern player Lukas Podolski taking advantage of a rare lapse in concentration but the Bavarians gradually resumed control and didn’t let go until the final whistle.
Bayern neutralize Arsenal’s speed
After good opening five minutes for the Gunners in which they used their pace well to get behind Bayern’s defenders, the visitors reacted well by slowing the game down and slowly squeezing Arsenal out of opportunities to use that speed. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger emphasized his team’s style of play and his counterpart, Jupp Heynckes, warned of their ability to play the ball quickly.
Bayern could not afford to give Arsenal the space they found early in the game and prompted to choke Arsenal in midfield to prevent those quick transitions. Befor the game, Heynckes said one of their strengths this season is that every attacker must be a defender and every defender must be an attacker. If Bayern eliminated Arsenal’s midfield, they’d effectively take out the players that release all their quick attacks.
Sure enough, Bayern played that out to perfection in the first half. Mandzukic, Müller and Ribery pressed from the front while Kroos, Martinez and Schweinsteiger applied pressure from the back. Combined, the six won 69 duels throughout the match and caused Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla to turn the ball over 23 times. When Arsenal had the bulk of the possession it rarely resulted in a competent attack because of Bayern’s timely pressure from both fronts.
Positionally excellent, composed on the ball and capable of reading every play Arsenal made, Bayern’s midfield trio was one of the biggest reasons for their win in London. After Arsenal found space down Bayern’s left at the beginning of the game, all three did well to cover when Ribery and Alaba were either advanced or out of position. Kroos was especially active moving over to the left during the game. Their interchangeability and readiness to cover for each other has been one of Bayern’s key strengths this season.
The trio shielded their backline to great effect and every time Arsenal approached Bayern’s penalty box they seemingly ran into a brick wall. Some may point to Arsenal’s lack of options but more than anything, it was Bayern’s positional play and reading of the game that really muted most of their attacks. It’s no wonder that Bayern’s back line are setting all kinds of records this season, they have arguably the best protection in world football in front of them and it showed against Arsenal.
Bayern and Lahm exploit Arsenal’s weaker left side
Also sensing that Arsenal were more vulnerable on their left, Bayern’s midfield trio cleverly shifted the play to that side of the field whenever they could. It was no surprise that both of their goals in the first half were produced down the right and the third towards the end of the game also came after an attack down that side. Vermaelen filling in at left-back and Podolski’s erratic position didn’t help of course but Bayern did brilliantly to exploit any space available.
Lahm in particular was extremely active and dangerous down his side. The Bayern captain was his team’s most active player with 93 touches and either participated in or directly created many of their most dangerous attempts. Ribery and Alaba on the left were touted to be Bayern’s biggest threat going into the game but it was their right side with Lahm and Müller that were the biggest thorn in Arsenal’s side.
Arsenal have it all to do in the second leg. Bayern conceded more than a goal at home just once this season. The last time they conceded three at home was almost two years ago, a stretch of 47 home matches. What’s more, a team has advanced to the quarterfinals only twice in the competition’s history after losing a first leg at home. One of those losses also happened to be Bayern though so nothing is guaranteed just yet.
That said, Bayern’s home record this season is just too good. How good? In the last five seasons in the league preceding the current one, a stretch of 85 matches, they have only lost eight games with a positive goal difference of 159, a scary thought for Gunners fans. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that not since their 2001 Champions League winning campaign have Bayern shown the kind of concentrated focus and determination as they have this season.
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