Arsenal 0 Bayern Munich 2 - comment: Pep Guardiola knows how to control Champions League ties and when to deliver fatal blow
Bayern Munich left the Emirates with a 2-0 win and look on course for a place in the quarter-finals
Thursday 20 February 2014
Bayern Munich came here and gave Arsenal a lesson last year as well, but if Jupp Heynckes’ treble winners played with the unforgiving power of machinery, there is something far more precise, scientific and adaptable about this version.
Pep Guardiola is often characterised as a football zealot, a man with an evangelical approach to a certain conception of the game but he is not just a theoriser. He has a forensic, ferocious eye for detail, as he showed again last night, making the changes to exploit Arsenal’s 20 tiring legs best, to control the game and win it.
Philipp Lahm revealed last week just how hard Guardiola works the Bayern players with his tweaks and changes. “He is football crazy, in a positive sense,” Lahm said. “He studies every opponent minutely, and he shows us solutions.”
Lahm spoke of the alterations Guardiola would make before and during every game, and he would know. Not only has Lahm been converted from right-back to central midfielder this season, but in a recent defeat of Mainz Lahm had to play in four different positions.
Last night, Lahm had to make do with three. He started at right-back in a 4-1-4-1. This allowed Javi Martinez to play just in front of the back four, where he could, in theory, shield his centre-backs from Arsenal’s direct approach.
As it happened, though, Bayern looked taken aback by the pace and focus of Arsenal’s start and they needed the hosts to wind themselves before they could get into the game. The crucial moment came eight minutes before the break when Arjen Robben burst in behind, reaching Toni Kroos’s perfect pass.
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David Alaba missed the resulting penalty and Bayern needed a better way in the second half of exploiting Arsenal’s flagging legs. Guardiola must have also known that his centre-back Jerome Boateng was fortunate to be on the pitch, having, while on a booking, tripped Jack Wilshere from behind.
So Boateng came off for right-back Rafinha, and Guardiola changed to 4-2-3-1. Martinez dropped into centre-back, Lahm moved into holding midfield and Thiago Alcantara switched on to the left. Bayern started to see more of the ball, but Guardiola urged Robben to be more direct, and soon enough it worked. The Dutchman darted inside, linked with Lahm, and Kroos scored beautifully.
Wanting more movement up front, Guardiola removed Mario Mandzukic for Thomas Müller. Thiago dropped back into the middle, Mario Götze went wide and the 4-3-3 strangled the play in the middle.
But there is a time to control and a time to strike, and Bayern knew they could win this tie on the night. So Claudio Pizarro, not a very obvious choice, replaced Thiago for the final 12 minutes, and was pushed up just off Müller, with Lahm and Kroos trusted to look after midfield.
Arsenal’s centre-backs have been excellent all season but after an exhausting evening the double threat was just too much for them. In the penultimate minute, Lahm drifted forward and floated a cross into the box. Pizarro dragged Per Mertesacker away and Müller, the man with the best nose for goal in the game, slipped in behind Bacary Sagna and darted a header into the net. It was just what had been expected of him.
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