Arsenal host Bayern Munich in the Champions League and a quick scan around the major betting sites shows the Bavarian team as the odds on favorites to get a result against the London side. This conforms to most of what I have read in the press, the blogosphere, and in various social media outlets; Arsenal are widely considered the underdogs.
That was my own feeling as well based on what I knew about Arsenal’s performances in the Champions League group stages where Arsenal racked up some pretty astonishingly low numbers in terms of shots, shots on goal, and goals scored. Based on both the quantitative data (mostly from WhoScored.com, because UEFA’s numbers are weird) and the qualitative data (you know, “watching the games”) my sense was that Arsenal were very mediocre in the group stages.
We’ve also been told, extensively, about Bayern’s record in the Bundesliga and how really great they are, how they are the best defensive team to ever play football, and that they are such kind and considerate lovers they once bought a team flowers before they beat them. I think at least one of those three things is true: Bayern have only lost once in 22 League games and they have only conceded 7 goals in those matches. So, clearly, it’s the thing about them being considerate lovers.
Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger spoke somewhat defiantly about his team’s odds saying that “we are not favourites but I trust our quality, our spirit and our mental strength. So see you tomorrow!” It’s easy to dismiss the statements about quality, spirit, and mental strength because we’ve all heard it before but watching him say it again, with such conviction, made me doubt not him but rather whether I had all my facts straight.
So, since we are playing at home I compared Arsenal’s home record in the Premier League to Bayern’s away record in the Bundesliga and Arsenal’s home record in the Champions League to Bayern’s away record in the same competition. This is what that chart looks like:
As you can see, Bayern’s goal scoring in away matches is the best in the Bundesliga but the three goals scored in the Champions League is among the very worst. This follows because Bayern look like they have struggled getting shots off that bother the keeper getting a surprising 4 shots on goal per game.
Scoring just three and conceding four is a very strange Champions League record for Bayern I have to say, because their Bundesliga stats show utter dominance in all of the major offensive and defensive numbers where they are first or second in goals, goals allowed, shots, shots on goal, shots conceded, and possession.
Bayern’s offensive and defensive dominance flows from their possession game and on paper this looks like it’s a toss up. I wonder who will dominate the possession game? We know that it will be the team that works hardest when they don’t have the ball (tackles, interceptions and fouls) and the team that plays quick passes when they do have the ball. In essence, which team wants it more? That could be the tale of the game as both teams vie to keep the ball as much as possible.
Bayern also go more direct and wide in away games, especially in the Champions League where they are 2nd in long balls and 1st in crosses per game. They are an awfully “cross” team normally and are often forced to play a lot of balls in from wide positions. I’ve found it interesting that Arsenal have adopted some of this to their game as well. Giroud was certainly brought in for his aerial ability and Arsenal have adapted at least part of our passing game to getting balls in to the big fella.
It would be easy to pick Lukas Podolski and Franck Ribery as the two players to watch tomorrow but I’m actually going to agree with Anam in his tactics column and say that Arsenal have a bit of a secret weapon in Theo Walcott. He only made three appearances for Arsenal in the Champions League (two as a sub) but now that his contract situation is settled, I expect he will start. He has also come under some deserved criticism for his part in the goal Blackburn scored at the Emirates and I would be surprised if he didn’t give one of his trademarked inspired performances.
Regardless, based on the numbers, this looks closer than I originally thought and I could actually see Arsenal edging the Bavarians 2-1 or even 1-0. If they get off to a good start and fight for the full 90 minutes.