Ahead of tomorrow's match with Bayern Munich, we had some questions. Who better to answer them than Mr. Pierson of the Bavarian Football Works, SB Nation's Bayern blog! Also, we answered some questions for them, which you can check out on their page here.
Take it away:
1) To those of us who don't watch a lot of non-English soccer, Bayern appears to have no weaknesses. Is there an area where Bayern are vulnerable, or less dominant than they appear to be?
Sounds arrogant, I guess, but I'd say our biggest weakness is the fact that the best team doesn't always win. But, no, there are a few areas where we're less than perfect. Set pieces (both defending and attempting to score on our own) have been largely poor over the last couple years. We've improved a lot in that area over the past 2-3 months, but I'll still be holding my breath on every Arsenal corner and free kick. And Manuel Neuer is an amazing 'keeper, I'd say the best in the world 97 percent of the time, but when he screws up, he really screw up big (more on this below).
But mainly, I'd say our biggest weakness is just that we haven't always shown the nerves of steel that are needed to win the biggest matches. Given the series of fluke disasters that has hit the club (and, to an extent, the German national side) over the past few seasons, sometimes it seems like the players are waiting for something bad to happen, rather than seizing control of the game with complete confidence. But right now, I still feel like we're the all-around best team in the world.
2) How big of an impact has Javi Martinez made? It sounds like he's been the perfect balance for both the attack and defense.
I oscillate back and forth pretty wildly on Javi Marts (unlike my readers, who mostly love him), I guess because the guy he's seemingly replaced in the starting XI is a favorite of mine: Luiz Gustavo, the Brazilian tackling machine. Javi had one poor match in the fall - I think it was our 2d CL match vs. Valencia - where he really stunk up the joint. But he followed that up with several excellent performances.
For the rest of his career, Javi is always going to be followed by that 40 million Euro transfer price tag. I guess it's a blessing and a curse. Whenever he makes a brilliant play, people will say "yeah - the 40 million Euro man!!" and whenever he screws up, people will say "they paid 40 million for that???" But, at the end of the day, Bayern has been smart with money for several years now, and the board figured they could afford to splurge on a great young player they really wanted. If nothing else, he'll give Pep someone to drink crianza with after he shows up.
3) What is the key for Arsenal, do you think, in slowing down Bayern's attack? Who do you think will start up front, and will that drastically affect how Arsenal must defend?
Seems like Bayern's starting forwards (in a 4-2-3-1) will be Mario Mandzukic up top, with Toni Kroos in the hole and Franck Ribery and Thomas Müller on either wing. Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez being the odd men out (and the first guys off the bench) in that formation. Robben has been a force for several years, but his game is sort of one-dimensional: speed burst, cut inside, powerful shot. Müller does a lot of work "off the grid" - he's a visionary passer, he knows how to make dummy runs to confuse the opponent, and he has an uncanny ability to sneak in behind defenders who get caught ball watching.
The key to slowing them down? If I knew that, I'd be coaching in the Bundesliga myself. Maybe try to kick Ribery in the shin when the officials aren't looking? Both he and Robben have been known to lash out and get carded. Other than that, Arsenal's best bet is to push your fullbacks and/or middies upfield and try to get a quick goal of your own in the early going.
4) Can you describe how you feel about Manuel Neuer? Do you think he's the best keeper you've had, or do you remember Kahn more fondly?
I wasn't around for most of the Kahn era. I started following the club about 6 years ago, and have been writing about them only for about 2. But even I know that Neuer still has a long way to go before getting to Kahn's level. On his own merits, though, he's an amazing 'keeper: makes great reaction saves and authoritatively controls to back of the pitch. And he even has the charismatic personality that Kahn had, which inspires confidence in his defenders.
He has been known to occasionally make unaccountably stupid decisions from out of nowhere. He cost us a match vs. Monchengladbach last season with a dumb attempted clearance. But ... you know, he's a strong, aggressive 'keeper who's always looking to throw himself into the play, so the (rare) overplay is the price you have to be willing to accept. And anyway, I can't blame him for getting bored back there - sometimes he goes 15 minutes at a time without seeing the ball come anywhere near him.
5) Do you have a prediction for Tuesday's match?
They finish level at 1 apiece Tuesday, then Bayern pulls out the long knives for the return leg and advances 4-1 on the aggregate. Good luck to you guys. By the way, I've turned off the 1-day waiting period for new members at my place, so if any of your crowd wants to check it out, tell 'em they can dive right in.
Thanks again to Mr. Pierson!