Arsenal

Arsenal vs. Bayern: Breaking Down the Most Interesting Individual Matchup

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18:  Bastian Schweinsteiger of FC Bayern Muenchen attends a press conference ahead of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg against Arsenal FC at the Landmark Hotel on February 18, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Rohan SubraSenior Analyst IFebruary 19, 2013

Although Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich brings many fascinating individual battles, there are some which seem like foregone conclusions. For instance, Arjen Robben must be licking his chops, ready to tear apart whichever unready left back is fielded for the Gunners.

All of the focus on the Arsenal side coming into the clash has been on the left back. Since Kieran Gibbs is injured and Nacho Monreal is cup-tied with Malaga, Arsene Wenger has no great options in that position.

However, the most interesting matchup will be in the midfield: Jack Wilshere vs. Bastian Schweinsteiger.

We are going to find out how well the young Englishman can deal with the powerful German, one of the biggest tests of this season for Wilshere. The best midfielder he has played against thus far is Yaya Toure, with whom Wilshere dealt quite well, despite a 2-0 loss at the Emirates. 

Meanwhile, we will also see how the 28-year-old "Schweini" copes with his Arsenal counterpart; it will also be a sign of what form the German international is in right now, given that he hasn't had his best year.

Despite that, Bayern have been cruising in the Bundesliga, 15 points ahead of the second-best team, Borussia Dortmund.

Why is this midfield battle the most interesting?

Because these are the two most complete players on either team, the two box-to-box midfielders, the two main men whose jobs consist of an equal amount of attacking and defending. This matchup is undoubtedly an exciting prospect for a tactics-lover. 

Wilshere's job coming into the game will be to try and make some runs through the middle of the pitch with his instant acceleration. In spite of the fact that he has been playing a bit further forward this season, Wenger will probably want to him drop back in order to disrupt the Bayern midfield's rhythm.

Schweinsteiger, however, will be looking to find his wingers for runs down the flanks, while taking a few shots himself. Defensively, his job will be essentially the same as Wilshere's: to break up any passing going on in the Arsenal midfield.

To look at who has the upper hand in this battle, let's look at some different aspects of the matchup.

First comes speed. I would give Wilshere the upper hand in this battle, because the youngster can change gear extremely quickly, while Schweinsteiger's game is oriented less around sprinting than around passing and shooting. 

The next factor is strength. Both men are very compact, but here I give an edge to Schweinsteiger, who may be able to nudge Wilshere here and there. Don't expect Wilshere to give up the ball because he isn't strong enough, but you shouldn't be surprised if the German wins a loose ball due to his great strength.

Thirdly, vision and passing. I know that Schweinsteiger is known to be a great passer, but this year, Wilshere has really done a great job of setting up his teammates. This one is a draw for me, as both players are brilliant in terms of unselfishness, decision-making and execution.

Finally, let's incorporate some other players into the equation. Arsenal bring in guys like Arteta and Cazorla through the middle, while Bayern have Javi Martinez, Toni Kroos or Thomas Muller. 

We can't really be sure who each manager is going to use, but what is almost certain is that it will be three-vs.-three in the midfield. Despite the potential advantage of overwhelming an opponent in the midfield, both sides like utilizing two wingers and a striker.

Jupp Heynckes will probably put Schweinsteiger on Wilshere, while Javi Martinez and one of the center backs will take care of Cazorla. Kroos or Muller facing off with Arteta plus one center back will be an interesting battle as well.

Finally, it's going to be an intriguing battle— not just between Schweinsteiger and Wilshere, but just midfield vs. midfield. Bayern have an advantage on the wings, so a great tactical mind like Wenger will undoubtedly come up with something to channel attacks through the middle.

Recently, Schweinsteiger had a lot of praise for the young Wilshere, perhaps a hint that he will have his hands full on Tuesday (from Arsenal.com):

“If you look at Jack Wilshere, he’s an excellent player...He’s a very difficult opponent. We will of course try to minimise the effect that he has on the game...I would say that Jack Wilshere has very good movement, he’s very dynamic and has a good left foot. He’s got a real eye for the way he sees his players around him. I would say those are his main talents."

It's really hard to say who has the edge going into the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16, but that's what makes it fun.

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