The Evening the Arsenal Grew Up in Europe – Defensive masterclass and counter attack!

Arsenal 2-0 Bayern

“If I have learned anything during these past few weeks, it’s that we can adapt to opponents. We can hit them from the off like a hurricane (the normal one, not that overgrown Draco Malfoy version), we can play sterile possession to tire them out, or we can just set up two banks of four and hit them on the break. We’ll find out what Arsene has in store for Bayern less than 24 hours from now.”

This is what I wrote in the preview before the Bayern game. I had no idea how we were going to set up, so I just listed what we did in the last two games and threw in “two banks of four” for good measure.

Such a set-up looked pretty unlikely to me, mostly because we just don’t play this way all that often. City game came closest to the performance we put in yesterday, but even it wasn’t taken to such a defensive extreme.

We had only 26% possession, only attempting 262 passes in the entire game (remember, passes attempted is basically time on the ball i.e. possession). 77% pass completion is also an unusually low number for Arsenal. Especially at home.

No place like home

However what we did was maximise the output. What few chances we created, we tried to make the most of. We took 13 shots, 12 of them were from inside the box, 8 were on target. Also, the chances we created were generally more dangerous: if you want the numbers, we had 4 big chances to Bayern’s 2, all four were put on target, 2 were goals. That’s despite Bayern completely dominating territory and possession. They have insane numbers in passes attempted (i.e. possession), the accuracy was 91%, but where did it get the Germans? Nowhere. Passes completed don’t win you games.

If I sound like I’m in awe of what we did, that’s because I am. Had such an approach from us been the norm rather than the exception, perhaps I wouldn’t be waxing lyrical here. However, as I’ve stated above, such a guarded and defense-oriented performance is a rarity from us. That we can pull it off when we need, that we can adapt to opponents (contrary to the widely held opinion), that we can concede we’d sometimes be wiser to accept the opponent is likely to get the better of us in an open encounter, makes me proud of Arsenal.

Was this approach planned? It looks like it wasn’t, at least it wasn’t entirely:

“It is was not deliberate from the start but I thought when we played very high up we stopped them from playing. When we were playing halfway they opened us up too much so I decided to drop Ozil a bit deeper and to make it tight around the box and catch them on the break because we have the pace to do it and to find some space with the game going on.”

So, Arsene saw the opportunity and he adapted in-game (so much for being tactically naive). Bravo to the boss, bravo to the lads who made it possible.

Speaking of the lads, I feel the need to talk about some individual performances. I know it was a collective performance, a team success, however, I was still amazed at some moments to focus my attention on them.

Petr Cech

Man of the Match, hands down. He was ably aided and abetted by the rest of the team, but that doesn’t make his six saves any less valuable. Remember the two big chances Bayern created? Cech saved both. One early on, from Thiago, the other at 1-0, from Lewandowski.

At least three of his other four saves were also pretty good: Cech parried a distance shot in spectacular fashion, before batting away Costa’s stinging drive and finally, tipping another effort over the bar.

Basically, Cech made big saves at important moments, which is what buying him was all about. Well done, Big Pete, extremely well done.

Hector Bellerin

It is fair to say Hector struggled against Costa in the first half. It was scary to witness, mostly because Hector is our best right-back and if he can’t cope with someone, chances are no one can. Here’s what Costa did in the first 45 minutes:

  1. 6/7 dribbles
  2. 9 attempted crosses
  3. 2 chances created
  4. 16/19 passes
  5. 3 ball recoveries
  6. 1 shot, off target

However, during the second half Hector adapted. He restricted Costa to a solitary successful dribble from the left, solitary (unsuccessful) cross and just one created chance. After all that, Bellerin performed one of his 4 successful interceptions, followed it up by a 45-meter sprint, continued by successfully completing his only dribble and rounded it off with the only chance he created during the entire game, which turned out to be the assist for our second goal. Hector’s lung-bursting run happened in the 94th minute.

Hector Bellerin, the fastest man alive

Na Na Giroud (quite the impact sub)

Ollie Giroud came on during the 74th minute of the game, replacing Theo Walcott. Our Handsome French Bloke was introduced to a round of applause and the customary “Hey, Jude” chant. And you know what Ollie did three minutes later? That’s right, he scored the opening goal.

Our number 12 was fouled far out, Cazorla stepped up, curled the ball towards the box and, after a horrible miss from Neuer, it found Giroud. Olivier headed the ball in.

Five minutes later Giroud could have ended the game as a contest, but, unfortunately for us, his headed effort was straight at Neuer.

However, it was the way Giroud held up the play and fought for aerial balls which made him invaluable. Finally the defenders could boot the ball long and reasonably hope someone would get on the end of their clearance. Which Giroud did to great effect. Some of his close control was simply magnificent.

The Frenchman now has 4 goals in his last 6 substitute appearances (Leicester, Watford, Stoke, Bayern). He could have added to that tally, but it’s still an impressive number and shows Ollie can come in handy from the bench.

Quite the impact sub

The verdict

It was a splendid effort from the boys and from the manager. Everyone to the man did their bit: Koscielny and Mertesacker contained Lewandowski, Cazorla and Coquelin stood their own against Vidal and Alonso, Monreal made Muller disappear…

This win sees us move into 3rd place, as Olympiakos won at Zagreb courtesy of a late winner, but here’s something to cheer you up: should Arsenal beat Bayern in Munich two weeks from now, we’ll be able to finish 1st in the group. As you probably remember, when two teams are level on points (as we will be with Bayern in case we win), it’s how they played one another that counts.

Should we really beat Bayern, it will have the added benefit of lighting a fire under Pep’s ass to win the remaining two games and then hope we drop points somewhere along the way. Which means the Germans will do their utmost to put Dinamo and Olympiakos to the sword and that, in turn, will ensure neither team finishes above us.

Right, that’s it for now. Enjoy this immense win.

Until later

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