Bayern Munich's record this season indicates that they can beat any opponent they are faced with. Their play is dominant, their finishing is pronounced, and they defend as a unit no matter what weird shape they may be playing in.
What happens when a big opponent stands opposite them? One that has a pedigree of domestic and European success? With defeats of Borussia Dortmund and VfL Wolfsburg, the Rekordmeister has risen to the challenge, at times showing that clubs such as them are not worthy to breath the same air as them. Those are opponents they are very familiar with, easy to scout and easy to follow, not to mention the amount of times Bayern have had to defeat those teams in recent seasons.
Their match in London against Arsenal showed they may not be as invincible as their domestic record makes them out to be, troubling for a club who could not make the Champions League final each of the last two years. Fortunately, they have a prompt opportunity to redeem themselves, hosting the very Gunners they could not vanquish two weeks ago. This time it will be on their turf, and this match is just the second time since the October international break Bayern can play an opponent at their own ground.
The managers on both touchlines will have to get creative to get the result they desire, which will provide the Allianz Arena crowd with a match that will be hard to predict.
The Match (10th Meeting)
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Head: Gianluca Rocchi
FC Bayern: 1 W, 0 D, 0 L
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Television and Streaming:
US: Fox Sports 1 | HD, ESPN Deportes, Fox Sports GO, Fox Soccer 2Go
Canada: TSN1 | HD
UK: BT Sport Europe, BT Sport Live Streaming
Germany: Sky Sports 1 & 4 | HD, Sky Go, ZDF
FC Bayern: DWWLW
UEFA Champions League: 4 W, 2 D, 3 L
Largest Victory: 3-1 (February 22, 2005, Munich, Germany; February 19 2013, London, England)
Largest Defeat: 0-2 (March 13, 2013, Munich, Germany; October 20, 2015, London, England)
Pep Guardiola has always stressed possession as part of his approach to football, but that only is one part of how football works. Space is the other part, and that is something Bayern have been unable to get against their opponents of late. Bunkering and bolting seems to be the correct formula to try and get a result, and it is an approach that has halted Bayern's season progression in its tracks.
Having Arjen Robben back in the team is a huge help though, for strong one-on-one players is the bust to the bunker approach. Guardiola will not be opposed to the overload either, using Robben and Douglas Costa on the same side in order to take advantage of fullback match ups. Such creative space-creating tactics will be necessary against an Arsenal team happy to sit in their own half in their own arena. Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller cannot score if they have no space to do so.
If Bayern are going to set up in Arsenal's half of the field, they likely do not need Thiago Alcantara and Xabi Alonso on the field at the same time. Rarely has Bayern started a match this season without a real No. 6, but Arsenal have less of a counterattacking capability with their array of injuries. Pairing a deep lying passer like Thiago or Alonso with a penalty area presence like Arturo Vidal may be able to provide Bayern with the combination play that could create real chances.
The defensive setup could get a little more interesting, for Bayern will need less people in defense if Arsenal are truly going to set up shop in their own half. Without Juan Bernat though, David Alaba will have to have some kind of presence on the left, especially if a player like Joel Campbell is part of Arsenal's starting XI. Medhi Benatia is also a good well-rounded defender to have, especially with how well he recovers, but Guardiola would be hard pressed to play him twice in the same week after he missed over two months with an injury.
With their Bundesliga win streak over and their luster fading a touch, Bayern's match against Arsenal is a pretty big result. Playing in front of their own crowd again will be a refreshing change of pace though.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Douglas Costa – Thomas Müller – Arjen Robben
Arturo Vidal – Thiago Alcantara
David Alaba – Jerome Boateng – Javi Martínez – Philipp Lahm
Bench: Sven Ulreich, Rafinha, Holger Badstuber, Medhi Benatia, Xabi Alonso, Joshua Kimmich, Kingsley Coman
Out/Suspended: Juan Bernat (groin), Mario Götze (groin), Franck Ribery (ankle), Sebastian Rode (hamstring)
October was the month where everything fell into place for Arsenal. Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott were stretching the play, and Mesut Özil and Santi Cazorla were using the space to orchestrate the attack. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker regained their fitness – as well as a familiarity with newly acquired goalkeeper Petr Čech – while Hector Bellerin showed he belonged in the world class tier of fullbacks.
Then the injury wave hit the shores of north London, a tide Bayern are all too familiar with. Mikel Arteta, David Ospina, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, and Theo Walcott all got injured in a two-week span. Perhaps each individual injury was not a big deal, but the aggregate injury tally leaves Arsène Wenger with limited options against a longtime formidable European opponent.
The biggest beneficiary of all these injuries is probably Joel Campbell, a player Arsenal acquired as a teenager four years ago from Costa Rican club Deportivo Saprissa but one who has only made 15 appearances for the Gunners. The perennial loanee scored in his first start in the Barclays Premier League against Swansea City at the weekend. Wenger has already asserted he could use Santi Cazorla out wide to put a more defensive player in midfield, but he would rather not get worse at two positions by making too many changes.
Campbell could be a good counterattacking option, a role he has undertaken in the Champions League before with Olympiacos. Olivier Giroud's return to the squad will give Arsenal a little more impetus in attack though, making the need for counterattacks less necessary. Arsenal will probably adjust to a more defensive style since they will be on the road, but their players have the ability also to keep possession in their own right.
Needing another victory to get back into the group, Arsenal will once again play with energy and a strong sense of urgency, keeping in mind that this is a fixture that they have a legitimate chance of winning.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Alexis Sanchez – Mesut Özil – Joel Campbell
Santi Cazorla – Francis Coquelin
Nacho Monreal – Laurent Koscielny – Per Mertesacker – Hector Bellerin
Bench: Matt Macey, Kieran Gibbs, Gabriel Paulista, Callum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, Mathieu Flamini, Alex Iwobi
Out/Suspended: Mikel Arteta (ankle), David Ospina (shoulder), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring), Aaron Ramsey (hamstring), Tomáš Rosicky (knee), Theo Walcott (calf), Danny Welbeck (knee), Jack Wilshire (calf)
Bayern's recent "disappointing" results have all come on the road this season; no one can beat them at home, and only one team has come close. That presents Arsenal with a tough task, especially since they do not usually end up with their desired result in Allianz Arena. Wenger will do his best to make sure Guardiola's waves only crash against sturdy defensive wall, but Robben adds a long range presence that could break the dam. Without Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain to stretch the play, Arsenal may have trouble finding an equalizer if Bayern get a head.
The Other Action
Group F Opponents
Olympiacos vs. Dinamo Zagreb (Wednesday, 2:45 PM ET)
The Rest of the UEFA Champions League
Lokomotiv Astana vs. Atlético Madrid (Tuesday, 10:00 AM ET)
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Malmö FF (Tuesday, 2:45 PM ET)
Real Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain (Tuesday, 2:45 PM ET)
Manchester United vs. CSKA Moscow (Tuesday, 2:45 PM ET)
SL Benfica vs. Galatasaray (Tuesday, 2:45 PM ET)
Sevilla vs. Manchester City (Tuesday, 2:45 PM ET)
Barcelona vs. BATE Borisov (Wednesday, 2:45 PM ET)
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. FC Porto (Wednesday, 2:45 PM ET)
Chelsea vs. Dynamo Kyiv (Wednesday, 2:45 PM ET)
Olympique Lyonnais vs. Zenit St. Petersburg (Wednesday, 2:45 PM ET)
KAA Gent vs. Valencia (Wednesday, 2:45 PM ET)