Arsenal face the daunting test of facing Bayern Munich on Tuesday evening, knowing they likely need a result from the game to keep alive any hopes of progressing to this season’s Champions League group stage.
So, here’s a look at Bayern’s likely XI and what each of them brings to the table.
Firstly, let’s just mention Pep Guardiola. The Spanish manager’s tactical flexibility is superb, as he looks to control the space on the pitch as well as the ball. Guardiola’s teams manipulate the space as well as anyone, and we could see a number of formations on Tuesday evening.
If he lines up as I think he might, they will roughly be in a 4-1-4-1 shape, but Guardiola has also frequently used a 3-4-3 this season, with the midfield living up as a diamond.
Manuel Neuer is essentially an extra outfield player when Bayern have the ball, and comes out of his goal to an extreme to deny opposition counter-attacks. Technically superb, and not a bad goalkeeper either. His huge frame has helped him develop into one of the best shot stoppers in the world.
Arsenal will probably need something special to beat him.
Should Bayern start with two centre-backs, they are likely to be Javi Martinez and Jerome Boating. The latter has established himself as one of the finest defenders in the world, and gives Bayern an extra dimension with his incredible ability to play precise long passes.
In that past teams could try to press Bayern high up the pitch, but Boateng is now able to exploit that with Thomas Müller, Douglas Costa and Robert Lewandowksi all prepared to make runs.
Javi Martinez has hardly played in the last year after a serious injury, but has started to find his feet again. Also capable of playing defensive midfield, the former Athletic Club man is an incredible physical presence. He doesn’t have Boateng’s ability on the ball, but is still one of the best ball-playing defenders in the world.
Legend and captain Philipp Lahm is a favourite of Guardiola’s. He could be asked to play in midfield, but is arguably still the finest fullback in the world. His ability to start playing in midfield at the age of 29 says everything you need to know about his class. Now 31, there’s very little Lahm can’t do.
On the left, David Alaba should start. Possibly the most rounded player in the world. For Austria he plays centre midfield, for former manager Jupp Heynckes he played left-back and for Guardiola he can play anywhere. When Bayern use a back three, Alaba is often utilised as a box-to-box centre-back, playing in the middle defensively but joining attacks in the #10 space.
With a number of injuries, Guardiola’s options in midfield are a little limited. Lahm and Martinez are both likely to play at the back (unless one of Rafinha or Bernat is chosen).
The deepest midfielder will be Xabi Alonso. Great vision and ability, but the Spaniard is now 33 years old. When pressed he can look vulnerable and, if possible, Arsenal should look to exploit that.
Ahead of him, the incredible pair of Thiago Alcantara and Arturo Vidal is likely to line up. Physically and technically, there’s nothing they can’t do. They symbolise the elements of control and chaos that Guardiola sees as imperative. Maybe Arsenal could look to wind Vidal up, but his talent can’t be questioned.
Now fit again, Thiago is proving once more that he could be one of the best midfielders in the game.
From the right, Thomas Müller. He could also play centrally, but he will play wherever the space is. You can’t afford to switch off for a second, because he will punish you. Few players have ever read the game like the German, who already has 11 goals in 11 Bundesliga and Champions League appearances this season.
On the other side, expect Douglas Costa to start. He was rested at the weekend but has had an explosive start to his Bayern career, providing five assists in eight Bundesliga appearances and one in two Champions League games. He’s something very different to the rest of the team: direct, and a little careless. 20-year-old Héctor Bellerín faces his toughest test yet.
And leading the line will be Robert Lewandowski. Make no mistake, he’s been in the ‘world class’ bracket for three or four years already, but right now he’s in the form of his life. For club and country, he’s scored 22 goals in 14 games already this season. A complete striker, able to run with the ball or run into the channels to create space, Lewandowski can score any type of goal.
So, shouldn’t be too hard? Arsenal just have to stop an unstoppable attack, beat an unbeatable goalkeeper and break and unbreakable defence.
It’s not that Bayern have all these players, but the way they fit together that makes them so good. They compliment each other, they play on the same wavelength. Guardiola’s side can play any style but they want to have control of the game.
Arsenal’s only chance on Tuesday night is to take that control from them