UEFA Champions League Preview: Arsenal first in line to try and derail Bayern Munich

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Jonathan Wilson took a crack at trying to figure out Bayern Munich from Arsenal’s point of view, but while acknowledging the defending European champions’ tactically flexibility, The Guardian’s tactics specialist described the Gunners’ choices as a series of middling tradeoffs. Perhaps Arsène Wenger could switch to a 4-3-3 formation (from a 4-2-3-1) or make a concerted effort to limit the influence of Philipp Lahm, regardless of the position the Bayern captain plays. Ultimately, however, the intensity and efficiency with which Bayern plays gives Pep Guardiola’s team its greatest advantage. A change in formation won’t offset that edge.

So the question ahead of Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League match in London — the first of two in the teams’ Round of 16 matchup — may be less how Arsenal can match up with Bayern than why this year’s meeting will be different from last’s. In the same round of last year’s competition, Bayern took a 3-1, first leg lead out of the Emirates. Three months later, the Bavarians claimed their fifth European title.

[MORE: Wenger, Arsenal intent on avoiding Champions League repeat against Bayern Munich]

Unfortunately for Arsenal, Bayern Munich are even stronger this year. Pep Guardiola has replaced Jupp Heynckes as head coach, bringing in a slightly different tactical approach as well as a new way to use players like Lahm (a fullback that’s been converted to defensive midfield). Mario Götze has joined from Borussia Dortmund, as has Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona. Attempting to improve on a team that dominated last year’s Bundesliga, Guardiola has crafted a crew that averages 70.4 percent possession and nearly 20 shots per match (19.2). They’ve become prohibitive favorites to be the first team since Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan to claim consecutive European titles.

As hinted in Wilson’s piece, Arsenal do not match up well against Bayern, a deficiency that describes a Champions League failure that’s been present throughout most of the Arsène Wenger era. With a subtle layer of dogma to their approach, Arsenal’s spells of domestic success have been coupled with the feeling they play as an aesthetically superior game to their opponents. Tellingly, the one time they reached the Champions League final under Wenger, Arsenal lost to Barcelona, a rare club that’s more dogmatic in their aestheticists’ ethic than the Gunners.

[MORE: Respectful Bayern saying all the right things ahead of Champions League visit to Arsenal]

Wenger’s pursuit of such stylist values has waned in recent years, but this is still a team that doesn’t feature an elite presence in defensive midfield (even if Mathieu Flamini’s return has been a boost). The defense features a series of value buys, and their goalkeeper couples promising performances with ones that hint he’ll never be an elite keeper. The overall philosophy describes an approach that sees relatively little difference between elite defenders and ones which represent better value. While that may be an empirically justifiable view, it’s also one that highlights scrutiny when Arsenal fails.

One of those failures occurred 11 days ago at Anfield, when Arsenals’ decent-not-stellar defense was exposed by Liverpool. In the process, the lack of a strong defensive midfielder was evident (Mathieu Flamini was suspended) while the remainder of the midfield failed to match up against the upstart Reds. While Arsenal has since rebounded from that disappointment, a vulnerable defense led by Laurent Koscielny and Per Merstsacker will still be stressed to contain the reigning European Champions.

The task will be easier in the absence of Franck Ribery, with Bayern’s best attacker sidelined as he recovers from surgery. Unfortunately, Bayern’s depth means the team will still likely start Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Müller, Mario Götze and Arjen Robben – a quartet capable of replicating last year’s three-goal performance in North London. With Lahm in midfield and Bastian Schweinsteiger returning to health, Bayern have more than enough talent to compensate of the absence of their Ballon d’Or finalist.

The one saving grace Arsenal has is their performance in their last meeting against Bayern. Last March, Arsenal produced a 2-0 result at the Allianz Arena, pulling them even with the Germans in the teams’ Round of 16 match ups. Away goals eventually sent Bayern through, but for Arsenal, the result could help create some momentum to carry into Wednesday’s game.

But it’s going to take more than momentum to derail the consensus best team in Europe. With the addition of players like Mesut Özil, Arsenal is certainly better than last year. But that’s unlikely to be enough to overcome Bayern Munich’s quest for a second straight title.

Barcelona forward Dembele injured again, out 3 to 4 weeks

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MADRID (AP) Barcelona says Ousmane Dembele is injured again and will be sidelined for up to a month.

The club says the young France forward picked up a hamstring injury in his left leg in the 4-2 win at Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Dembele, signed from Borussia Dortmund last year as a replacement for Neymar, was out for more than three months after rupturing a thigh tendon in his left leg on Sept. 16.

He had played only a few matches since fully recovering from surgery.

Barcelona says the injuries were not related.

The club also said Monday that Andres Iniesta has a right calf problem, but did not say how long the midfielder will be out.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Transfer Roundup: Chelsea on Sanchez; Malcom to Arsenal; Mignolet to leave

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Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has responded to reports that the Blues are trying to make a late bid to buy Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news

“I don’t know but I don’t think so,” Conte said when asked by reporters on Tuesday if Chelsea were in talks to buy Sanchez.

Reports on Monday had suggested that although Sanchez’s move to Manchester United was edging closer, Chelsea had entered the race late on.

Sanchez, 29, is said to be involved in a swap deal for Henrikh Mkhitaryan plus cash but even that deal is proving difficult with Mkhitaryan dragging his feet.

Is there hope for Chelsea? It still seems like a long shot and something would have to go drastically wrong with United’s move for Arsenal.


Bordeaux’s president,Stephane Martin, has been speaking about a potential transfer for his star Brazilian forward Malcom to Arsenal, and it appears the Gunners are a long way from buying the 20-year-old.

Malcom’s agent was in London earlier this week, suggesting a deal was close, but that no longer appears to be the case.

Martin had the following to say when discussing Malcom’s future.

“Things are clear with his agents. It has not been extended and secured this summer to give it away this winter,” Martin said. “We never had a discussion with Arsenal. From our point of view, it’s wind. They can always try, but they will have a hard time taking it from us.”

Malcom has taken Ligue 1 by storm this season and has scored seven goals and added five assists.

It is believed he is valued at over $55 million by Bordeaux and both Arsenal and Tottenham were reportedly interested in the deal. However, Arsenal are said to be the main contenders for Malcom and if Alexis Sanchez does leave, as expected, the youngster is seen as a direct replacement.


Simon Mignolet could be on his way out of Liverpool.

The Belgian goalkeeper, 29, has been speaking about his future at the club after he was dropped for the 4-3 win against Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday.

“After the game against Burnley I had a conversation with the coach, among other things about his ongoing rotation. I did not find that a healthy situation for a goalkeeper,” Mignolet said. “My place on the bench against City confirmed his words. I am not satisfied with that (being dropped) but you have to respect a decision of the trainer.”

“After everything that has happened this season, I know where I stand and the situation has become clearer. I have been in such situations before and have always come out stronger. I have to think about my future and the World Cup is coming. This situation should not last too long, that is clear. But I cannot say more about it either.”

Mignolet has started 29 of Liverpool’s 23 PL games but Loris Karius has played in the UEFA Champions League and Mignolet seems frustrated with sharing time with the German goalkeeper.

Where could he go? The likes of Crystal Palace, Southampton and Newcastle could be good landing spots for the Belgian international, while Liverpool have been linked with a move for Stoke’s Jack Butland in the summer, so maybe Mignolet could be part of the deal?

Tevez on $850k per week move to China: “It was a vacation”

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Fact: Carlos Tevez’s vacations are the most lucrative around.

The former Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus star joined Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua in 2016 from his boyhood club Boca Juniors after leaving Juve in 2015 to return home to Argentina.

It is believed Tevez was earning close to $850,000 per week, after tax, in China but in September he was criticized for being overweight and not fit for action.

Tevez left Shenhua earlier this month after four goals in 16 games.

Speaking to Argentine outlet TYC Sports on his return to Boca, Tevez had the following to say about his move to China in 2016.

“It’s fine because I was on vacation for seven months,” Tevez said. “When I landed in China, I wanted to return to Boca.”

Now, 33, Tevez’s return to Boca has been lauded by Diego Maradona and fans in Argentina as the nomadic forward returns home with a huge wad of cash after one of the best paying vacations around.

Report: Real Madrid willing to let Cristiano Ronaldo leave

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It appears that Real Madrid are finally willing to let Cristiano Ronaldo leave the Santiago Bernabeu.

A report from Sky Sports’ Guillem Balague says that Real are now warming to the idea of selling Ronaldo and cashing in on the five-time World Player of the Year while they still can.

Ronaldo, 32, has scored just four goals this season in La Liga as Real, the reigning Spanish and European champions, languish in fourth place in the table.

Per the report, Ronaldo’s former club United are the frontrunners to re-sign him but there are certain complications which come with such a huge deal for one of the greatest players in world history.

First up: Real still want $120 million for a player who turns 33 in February. Yeah, not going to happen. Also, his salary of over $60 million per year, after tax, could be problematic.

Ronaldo has scored an amazing 422 goals in 418 game since joining Real from Man United in 2009 and he’s been instrumental in winning three UEFA Champions League titles in the Spanish capital. Still, with his numbers diminishing this season, a contract which runs out in 2021 and suggestions that he’s not at his physical peak anymore, this is a lot of money for United, or anyone else, to shell out.

Yes, Ronaldo’s name will see the club he plays for rake in cash in many other ways but if his levels continue to drop on the pitch then paying this much for him doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It’s clear that Ronaldo hasn’t been too happy for a while now and it is thought he wanted a new contract last summer but Real have yet to come up with the goods.

Seeing Ronaldo back at Old Trafford and managed by his old boss at Real, Jose Mourinho, seems like something out of a Hollywood movie. Until Real drop their asking price, Ronaldo heading back to Man United will remain a fantasy.