How Bayern Munich coach Thomas Tuchel found a way to blunt Arsenal’s attacking plans

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How Bayern Munich coach Thomas Tuchel found a way to blunt Arsenal’s attacking plans

“It is extremely fluid. You can recognise a lot of automatic, but also free-running moves,” said Thomas Tuchel about Arsenal’s game on the ball before his Bayern Munich side faced them on Wednesday in the second leg of a Champions League quarter-finals.

The German head coach’s words were ones of admiration, but also of homework well done. Tuchel preceded this by explaining Arsenal’s different build-up patterns and their combinations down their right, the opposition’s left, through Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Ben White.

The flexibility in that area of the pitch and Arsenal’s multiple solutions on the ball make it a tough task to limit their attacking play, but after managing a 2-2 draw in last week’s first leg at the Emirates Stadium, Bayern managed to shackle Mikel Arteta’s side in this decider to proceed to the semi-finals with a 1-0 victory on the night.

To halt Arsenal’s attack, Tuchel and his players had to match their flexibility. Operating out of their 4-4-2 shape without the ball, Bayern decided not to press Arsenal higher up the pitch, instead moving into a mid-block just around the halfway line.

Up top, Harry Kane and Jamal Musiala positioned themselves narrowly in front of Jorginho to prevent Arsenal’s centre-backs from easily finding the Italy midfielder.

When Declan Rice dropped to support the build-up, Musiala and Kane constantly adjusted their positions to block the passing lanes into the Arsenal midfielders…

… which also happened when Takehiro Tomiyasu moved infield from left-back and Arsenal built up in a 3-2 shape. Bayern wanted to funnel Arsenal’s attacks into the wide areas and around their defensive block rather than moving through it.

Down Arsenal’s left, Leroy Sane was regularly defending in a narrow position to prevent Tomiyasu from having time and space on the ball once the Japanese defender moved inside…

… and also to support Leon Goretzka by blocking the passing lane into the half-space and preventing Arsenal finding Rice in dangerous positions between the lines.

Sane’s other task off the ball was to support Bayern’s makeshift right-back, midfielder Joshua Kimmich, against Gabriel Martinelli once Arsenal moved the ball towards the Brazilian winger.

Here, Sane’s defensive effort is crucial…

… as it stops Martinelli from having a free run after dribbling past Kimmich.

In case Tomiyasu pushed forward while Sane was doubling up with Kimmich against Martinelli, Matthijs de Ligt was quick to pick up the Arsenal left-back.

On the other flank, Bayern were ready for Arsenal’s right-sided combinations.

“With Saka and Odegaard, they always attack on the right, at least the beginning of many attacks, which sometimes end up on the left,” Tuchel said before the game.

“But Arsenal try to shift the game to the right side first, to create an overlap there with Odegaard and often via the right-back, Ben White, to either get through there or to play a quick switch with runners in the left half-space or the left wing.”

To combat that, Bayern’s left side marked Arsenal’s trio tightly: Raphael Guerreiro pushed forward towards White and dropped when Arsenal’s right-back tried to overlap, Noussair Mazraoui kept an eye on Saka’s movement all game, and Konrad Laimer was glued to Odegaard.

In this example, Saka drops deeper and moves infield, allowing White space to overlap, but Mazraoui and Guerreiro are tracking their movements closely, while Odegaard is marked by Laimer.

In another example, Saka moves towards the touchline to receive from White, as Odegaard makes a forward dash in the right half-space, but Laimer is tracking the Norwegian’s movement and Mazraoui moves up to face Saka, forcing Arsenal to reset the attack.

The last part of Bayern’s defensive jigsaw was not allowing Kai Havertz to drop freely and overload the central areas. Eric Dier followed the German forward closely when he moved in between the lines.

After the introduction of Gabriel Jesus in place of Jorginho on 68 minutes and Havertz moving to the left side of midfield, Dier made sure the Brazilian forward didn’t have any time on the ball when he dropped in between the lines.

Here, when White plays a ball in to Jesus, Dier follows the latter up the pitch…

… and wins back possession for Bayern.

In the second half, Arsenal were completely unable to break down Bayern’s defensive block, and in search of the equaliser Arteta also brought on Eddie Nketiah (86 minutes) for Tomiyasu and moved to what resembled a 3-1-6 in possession, with Leandro Trossard, who had replaced Martinelli with 22 minutes of the 90 left, and Saka providing the width.

However, Tuchel reacted quickly to that change by replacing Sane with Dayot Upamecano and moving to a back five to tighten his defence.

Against a multi-faceted Arsenal attack, Bayern complemented their efforts off the ball with defensive solutions that made them hard to play through and earned them an important clean sheet to secure another European Cup/Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid — this will be the clubs’ eighth meeting at that stage.

To reach the Wembley final in June (11 years after lifting the trophy there by beating Borussia Dortmund) they will need to keep finding effective solutions — offensively and defensively.