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In the Zone: Rafael Benítez on Arsenal 2-2 Bayern

UEFA Technical Observer Rafael Benítez analyses Arsenal's 2-2 draw against Bayern in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final opener.

Bayern's Leroy Sané and Arsenal's Declan Rice
Bayern's Leroy Sané and Arsenal's Declan Rice

The UEFA Champions League quarter-final between Arsenal and Bayern München remains intriguingly poised after a 2-2 first-leg draw in London which showcased the qualities of both sides.

In this analysis article brought to you by FedEx, UEFA Champions League-winning coach Rafael Benítez identifies the tactical elements that caught his eye last night – from the way Arsenal pressed and Bayern responded, to the attacking approach of the two teams.

Team formations


Arsenal's aggression meets Bayern’s ability to escape press

In the Zone: Arsenal's defending on front-foot

The first video focuses on Arsenal's aggressive pressing and Bayern's capacity to play through that pressure. Arsenal impressed Benítez, the UEFA observer, with their "high tempo and pressing" and the first clip offers an example as Mikel Arteta's team go man-for-man across the pitch. This includes Martin Ødegaard as the highest point of their press and also the centre-backs who follow the Bayern forwards as they drop deep.

As this In the Zone article from December shows, a consistent feature of Bayern's attacking play this season has been Harry Kane's tendency to go deep and help feed his wingers. Thomas Tuchel, the visitors' coach, described it last night as "a role where he dropped to release our speed" yet in clip one, Gabriel's awareness and determination are clear as he follows the Englishman into the opposition half, sticking tight and thwarting his attempts to collect from Manuel Neuer.

Arsenal's aggressive defensive work included Jorginho covering the space in front of the back four, as seen in the second clip where he is closely watching Jamal Musiala – highlighting again that collective effort to shut down those pockets of space habitually exploited by both Kane and Musiala. In this sequence, Ødegaard is again leading the press and his closing down of Eric Dier helps spark the turnover high up the pitch which results in a shot by Gabriel Martinelli.

The focus shifts to Bayern with the third clip which shows their capacity to get beyond the press. In a sequence which concludes with William Saliba conceding a penalty, it is worth underlining the way Neuer invites pressure then chips the ball coolly over Martinelli as well as the individual excellence of Leroy Sané as he spins away from Jakub Kiwior before driving forward with the ball.

The final clip shows Bayern build from a goal-kick in the second half. By this point the game was more open – or "a bit chaotic", to quote Arteta – and we can see there is clearly space for Bayern to exploit behind the press as Leon Goretzka finds the room to receive before feeding Sané.

Arsenal's attacking strategy

In the Zone: Arsenal's strategy on the ball

The second video begins with an example of Arsenal's attacking work on their right – a strong feature of their first-half performance, in particular. We see Ødegaard moving out to the right to get on the ball with full-back Ben White pushing high upfield and Bukayo Saka moving inside. Indeed, White was often the highest-placed Arsenal player on that side in the first period and the sequence ends with his pass inside for Saka to strike an outstanding opening goal.

Benítez said: "Arsenal controlled the game for the first 17 minutes. They were dropping off and defending deep when necessary and then pushing high with high tempo and intelligence and regaining the ball. With Ødegaard on the right, between the lines, and with White higher even than Saka sometimes, they were a threat."

Although Bayern had Serge Gnabry dropping from his position as left winger to support their defence – as highlighted in clip two – this second sequence still ends with an opportunity for White to put Arsenal 2-0 up. For Arteta, it proved a key moment. "We had the feeling we were becoming a threat and we scored a really good goal," he said. "After that was the moment of the game when Ben is in front of Neuer and [if it is 2-0] that would have been a very different match."

According to Benítez, there was also a noteworthy duel between Ødegaard, the Player of the Match, and Konrad Laimer, Bayern's left-sided holding midfielder: "Between the lines Ødegaard was always a threat. When he went inside, it was easier for Laimer to control him."

As it was, Arsenal changed their approach in the second period with the half-time introduction of Oleksandr Zinchenko bringing a different dimension to their build-up play. "Arsenal in attack had three at the back with Zinchenko higher," said Benítez, noting how the Ukrainian would come infield to help construct attacks as seen in clip three with his line-breaking pass to Jorginho.

Indeed, though he played only one half of the match, Zinchenko produced the most line-breaking passes into the final third (five), with Declan Rice next with four. And overall, he played more line-breaking passes than anyone else on the pitch with 12 – two more than White and Joshua Kimmich (ten apiece).

Bayern's counterattacking threat

In the Zone: Bayern's threat on transitions

The final video looks at Bayern's threat on transitions, beginning with the lead-up to Gnabry's 18th-minute equalising goal when they exploited ruthlessly a defensive lapse by their hosts to score with their first attempt of the night. As Tuchel said of his team afterwards: "It is a strength to go to fast attack from ball wins."

Musiala is the provider of the ball from deep in the second clip which illustrates the menace that Sané brings with his speed. In this instance only an excellent recovery challenge from White stops him getting in a shot. "If they have the space, you know they can punish you," said Arteta afterwards. "We let them [do that] on a couple of occasions and that is something that in the return leg we have to do better."

From his position in the stadium, Benítez saw the influence of Alphonso Davies grow in the second half with a number of overlapping runs. He also likened the link-up between Sané and Kane – the former running on to passes behind the defender – to the way Kane used to combine with Son Heung-Min at Tottenham Hotspur.

The impact of Sané is evident again in clip three, from the 65th minute, as he carries the ball from deep inside his own half into Arsenal territory – via a neat exchange with Musiala – before releasing Gnabry for a shot. And despite his withdrawal shortly afterwards, Sané still finished the match with the highest average distance for ball carries – 9.9m – and ranked joint-first for most carries following a 1v1, with three (alongside Musiala and Gabriel Jesus).