The UEFA Champions League is back and it couldn’t come at a worse time. Bayern Munich are at the most healthy they’ve been in several season and have every attacking and midfield player available to them. Despite that, they’ve struggled in every match since the winter break, slogging their way to 4 wins and a draw. They’ve struggled to score goals and their inability to bury oppositions has gotten them into tough positions late in games.
None of that will be enough when Arsenal come knocking at the Allianz Arena. Bayern have faced Arsenal in three of the last four iterations of the Champions League (going 3-1-2 in a group stage and two Round of 16 clashes). While Bayern has had the upper hand, they’ve struggled at the Emirates and have seen Arsenal dominate them at the Allianz Arena. There is not clear winner here.
To take us through this season’s version of Arsenal FC is Paul DeBruler, our colleague over at SBNation’s Arsenal blog, The Short Fuse.
1) Arsenal came out of their Champions League group undefeated but are sitting 4th in the Premier League amongst a pack of not Chelsea's. How has this season gone so far?
This season has, dispiritingly, gone almost exactly as the last few have: Arsenal start strong and look worldbeating early. Then the calendar changes to January, and the slow leak in the balloon starts letting all the helium out, and it leaks so slowly at first that you don't really notice it. Then, before you know it, your balloon looks like a raisin and you're left wondering why your top quality balloon isn't still inflated.
To be clear: fourth place is a position that most teams (well, 16 teams I guess, but you get my point) would love to be in, and it's not objectively bad; it's just that we've seen this movie before, almost verbatim, and it always ends the exact same way. It's like the opposite of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel (also known as "a novel", I guess).
2) Who is deadliest to Bayern Munich: Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Oezil, or someone else?
When the team is firing on all cylinders, I would say both Alexis and Özil - that is as deadly of a combo as you will find in the Premier League. When, as is often the case, the team is not playing well as a unit, I would say that Alexis is the more deadly threat. Özil's work can be largely invisible - which is not to say it's not there, he's amazing, you just don't often see it happening until it's happened - but Sanchez is always there, waiting to pounce.
3) What is Arsenals biggest problem this season and how can Bayern Munich exploit it?
This season, and for the past few seasons, Arsenal's biggest problem can be summed up in one word: Predictability. Arsenal play the way they play. Which is fast, fluid, and very dependent on constant motion.
How can Bayern exploit that? The same way teams like Bradford do. Disrupt the motion. Press. Arsenal can't really handle an organized, high pressing defense, and they have no plan B when they're shut down. Arsene Wenger has always believed that his players are smart enough to figure things out on their own (and for the most part he does recruit intelligent attacking players, to be fair), which results in a lack of planning for what happens if things go sideways in a game.
Extra) Tell me your 3-step plan to restore Granit Xhaka back to the mountain upon which he belongs
Step one: Fire Francis Coquelin into the sun
Step two: Relieve Arsene Wenger of his command
Step three: Rebuild team around a strong, physical midfield with Xhaka as its linchpin