Yet again, Arsenal are in the Round of 16. Yet again, Arsenal are facing Bayern Munich. Hopefully, the result will be different this time than the previous four R16 matchups (sigh), but either way, we thought we’d check with our SBN pals over at Bavarian Football Works to get some insights ahead of the game. We spoke with Ryan Cowper of that fine site, and he was gracious enough to answer our questions; you’ll find my answers to his questions at this here link.
TSF: If Bayern could exchange with Arsenal, straight up, player for player, who would they want and why?
BFW: Alexis Sánchez. Period. No question. Sanchez is one of the most dynamic players in the world and with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben on the wrong side of 30, adding Sánchez would be exactly what Bayern needs. Would you take Jerome Boateng as fair compensation? Though I’d be remiss if I also didn’t say that while my mind is telling me Alexis Sánchez, my body is telling me Mesut Oezil.
TSF: How has the switch to Carlo been? Does Bayern play noticeably different under him, and also does that mean they're better prepared to take on Arsenal than last season?
BFW: The switch from Pep Guardiola to Carlo Ancelotti has been rocky. While under Guardiola Bayern’s style was defined by their high pressure and high line. They won the ball back quickly, but were frequently overwhelmed by counterattacks, or situations where they couldn’t dominate the field. Matches against Arsenal were always a terrifying proposition because if they brought their A-game, it was going to be a tough day for a Guardiola side.
Under Carlo Ancelotti, Bayern’s offense has been almost stagnant this season. Thomas Müller has struggled to the point where he doesn’t deserve to be in the starting 11 and what makes matters worse is Ancelotti knows it and hasn’t figured out how to fix it. Without Müller, Bayern relies on Lewandowski up front and while the likes of Ribery, Robben, and Douglas Costa are effective creative forces, it’s been far too easy for Bayern to get lost in front of goal this season.
That being said, the defense is rock solid. Ancelotti plays his defensive line much deeper than Guardiola, giving the likes of Arturo Vidal and Thiago Alcantara more defensive responsibility. Bayern has played enough minutes against Dortmund’s completely ludicrous attack that they’ve gained a sense of how to shut down possession oriented sides and I think Arsenal could be in for a frustrating evening.
TSF: Has the churn around Philip Lahm's retirement had an effect on the team?
BFW: Lahm’s retirement hasn’t seemed to have an effect on the team’s play but it definitely has had an impact on the front office. Lahm and the board haven’t exactly had the most understanding of weeks and the veiled verbal pot shots in the media from both sides haven’t exactly created a heartening atmosphere.
While Lahm’s retirement announcement may not have much of an effect, Lahm himself has been a sinking ship all season. He’s losing his pace and challenges that he would easily win and start a counter on in previous seasons have seen him upend players and give away set piece opportunities. He no longer maraudes and commands the right side of the pitch the way he used to, and it’s not hard to see how his struggles out wide right have had a knock-on effect on Thomas Müller’s ability to move inside and play off Robert Lewandowski.
One of the fundamental reasons Guardiola moved Lahm into midfield when he came to Bayern was partly in an effort to prolong Lahm’s career. Moving him back to rightback last season was a desperation move aimed at giving the team it’s best chance at a treble, but the knock on effect is that Lahm just doesn’t have it anymore. Couple that with a new midfield built around Vidal and Thiago and there just isn’t a place for him on the pitch anymore.
TSF: Bonus question: Isn't Bayern tired of beating Arsenal yet?
BFW: This is a trick question. Arsenal beat themselves.