Bayern Munich is the kind of team that we have come to associate with swell passing and great dominance born out of the fantastic quality of their possession. However, in their last Champions League match against Arsenal, a different virtue stole the spotlight: their sheer strike power.
On Wednesday, Pep Guardiola’s team crushed Arsenal in an overwhelming 5-1 victory for their group stage match at Allianz Arena — a game in which the Gunners looked, for the most part, confused and unable to cope with what was running at them.
Now, coming into the game, it would’ve been hard to predict such a one-sided scoresheet. In the previous encounter between the two teams, Arsenal had actually beat out the German side by 2-0 in Emirates Stadium thanks to their solid defending and quick counter attacks.
However, on Wednesday, the audience got a quick sign that things could be different this time around when, in the 10th minute, polish striker Robert Lewandowski netted the first one for the home team.
Here’s the thing: Arsenal were expecting a similar Bayern side, while Guardiola’s men were ready to offer something different. While the Londoners were prepared to clog up the middle channel of the park – so much so that they were ready to sacrifice Mesut Ozil in a center-midfielder role – Bayern Munich had come out decided to capitalize on speed and skill on the flanks, and physical presence in the opponent’s box. They were ready to look more like… classic Germans.
It worked. As Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman opened up holes for them with their skill on the flanks, Bayern were putting at least two or three men in Arsenal’s small box during every attack. Add the fact that two of those attackers were always the in-form Lewandowski and the infinitely resourceful Thomas Muller, and you have an unstoppable offensive outlet.
That way, Muller’s 29th minute goal from a weak strike inside the box – after a cross from the right flank – came as no surprise to anyone in the stands. And, as David Alaba scored a 20-yard screamer right before the half-time break, there was hardly any doubt that Arsenal were done.
It’s important to note that Bayern never gave up their possession-based, fluid style of play. As always, they were overwhelmingly in control of the ball throughout the match (they had possession for 66 percent of the game). But instead of using their possession to look for holes through the middle, they were using it to give their players time to obtain positional and numerical superiority in the opponent’s box.
During Wednesday’s match, Bayern Munich actually had less possession and a smaller number of shots than they did during their 2-0 loss against Arsenal, yet obviously their results were much better. By switching up his team’s pathway to goal, Guardiola made his men much more effective in front of it.
In the second half, Arjen Robben came on to make an instant impact by scoring after – you guessed it – a left-flank cross by David Alaba. There were four Bayern players in the box at the time of the goal. And despite, Olivier Giroud clawing one back for Arsenal in the 69th minute, Bayern were able to keep the 4-goal balance in the scoresheet as Thomas Muller scored again in a last-minute counter attack.
After Wednesday’s match, for Arsenal, things couldn’t look more grim. With only three points from four group stage matches, Wenger’s men now need to win their two remaining matches, and hope that Olympiakos lose theirs, in order to make it to the next round of the Champions League.
On the other hand, of course, Bayern Munich can be at peace – calm in the knowledge that they are almost already through to the next stage, and that they are currently, by far, the most prolific goal-scorers in the tournament.