Arsenal 0-2 Bayern Munich (Kroos 54, Mueller 88)
Man of the Match – Toni Kroos (Arsenal)
In an all too familiar tale, Arsenal were undone by one moment of madness, on what promised to be a glorious night of Champions League football. Jens Lehmann against Barcelona in 2006, Robin van Persie against Barcelona in 2011, and now Wojciech Szczesny against Bayern Munich last night.
With the match billed as a clash between Europe’s classiest and Europe’s finest, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sent shock waves in the football world by naming unheralded Yaya Sanogo in the starting lineup. Despite his impressive performance against Liverpool, it was surprising to see the French youngsters’ name in the lineup. Olivier Giroud may still be regretting his night out with the FHM model. Former Bayern Munich striker Lukas Podolski too did not get the nod. With Mikel Arteta suspended, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was preferred to Tomas Rosicky.
Bayern Munich, without the services of the injured duo of Franck Ribery and Xherdan Shaqiri, started with the strongest possible lineup. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Mueller made it to the bench, while the starting lineup had the formidable holding midfield partnership of Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez. Mario Gotze and Arjen Robben on the flanks, Mario Mandzukic upfront and the irrepressible Toni Kroos in attacking midfield.
The match started at electric pace, and the visitors had the first attempt, when a beautiful shot by Toni Kroos required Szczesny to dive to his left to palm away the ball for a corner. Arsenal’s first attempt came moments later, when Yaya Sanogo forced Manuel Neuer into a save. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was already causing David Alaba problems, as Arsenal rolled around the ball in confidence in midfield.
The best chance of the match fell to Mesut Ozil, when after being released on the left, he tricked compatriot Jerome Boateng into a foul, and won a penalty. His resultant spot kick was casual and easily tipped for a corner by childhood friend Manuel Neuer. It was the German’s second penalty miss, after he missed one in the group game against Marseille.
The Emirates which was a loud precipice till that point of time, suddenly became a bit quieter as Bayern started making inroads into Arsenal’s defence. Arjen Robben’s free-kick struck the wall and then the rebound way over. Bayern, under Guardiola, have become a more Barcelona-esque side, and they teased Arsenal with their inch perfect passing. In a rare foray forward, Yaya Sanogo won the ball, created space and released Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain beautifully, but Manuel Neuer made a perfect judgement to come out of his area, and clear the danger.
Arsenal were forced to make an early substitution when Kieran Gibbs pulled his hamstring and had to be replaced by Nacho Monreal. Things got worse 6 minutes later, as in the 37th minute, Arjen Robben attempted to bring down a ball, and cluttered into Szczesny, who came out to collect the ball. The Dutchman, formerly of Chelsea, and the general cunt that he is, made most of the contact, and played his role in getting Arsenal’s Polish keeper sent off. A yellow card and a penalty would have been fair. But, this reduced the Gunners to 10 men, in a major European clash.
Santi Cazorla was the man sacrificed, as Lukasz Fabianski came on. David Alaba was assigned to take the free-kick, and the young Austrian full back chose the correct spot, but struck the post and out. Arsenal had escaped, just about. Arsenal hung on for the remainder of the half.
Bayern, the well oiled, mean German tank, came out all fired up against a weakened artillery unit that was Arsenal. From the word go, in the second half, Bayern attacked Arsenal. Jerome Boateng was taken off, with Brazilian right back Rafinha taking his place.
Nacho Monreal’s unsure clearance, fell straight to Kroos, who shot straight at Fabianski, before Koscielny had a chance of his own at the other end. He escaped the attentions of the defenders, created space, but couldn’t find the angle nor the power to shoot, as Neuer saved comfortably. After that, Arsenal were under immense pressure, as Bayern peppered Arsenal with bullets.
The first one, went in. Toni Kroos, who opened the scoring for the Bavarians last year, repeated it this time round, with a fantastic curling effort, leaving Fabianski with no chance whatsoever. Bayern patiently passed the ball around, as Arsenal were forced to retreat, forming two banks of 4, Sanogo playing in midfield. Ozil and Chamberlain were to become the only two outlets, but they were crowded out as soon as they were in possession.
Rafinha, and more so, Arjen Robben, were peeling Nacho Monreal. The Spaniard was getting little protection from Ozil, as Bayern constantly attacked from Arsenal’s left. Robben did his trademark cut-in couple of times, but was met by a resolute Fabianski. Arsenal remained solid, however, despite attempts from Kroos, Gotze and Thiago to pierce the defence. Mandzukic was reduced to taking shots. He was replaced by Thomas Mueller in the 64th minute, as Bayern went for the kill. Koscielny fouled Robben in the box, and was lucky not to have been awarded another penalty.
Laurent Koscielny, made several last ditch tackles, as Arsenal tired on with 10 men, and 2 subs down. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had picked up a slight knock, was the last substitution, and he was replaced by former Borussia Dortmund midfielder Tomas Rosicky, with 16 minutes left to play.
Bayern were unflinching in possession and continuously worked the Arsenal players. Peruvian striker Claudio Pizzaro came on in the 79th minute for Alcantara. Laurent Koscielny made a dart forward in the 88th minute, that would prove to be costly. A cross from the right was headed in by Mueller, with just 2 minutes of regulation time left to play. It was a big blow for Arsenal, as they were reduced to a 2 goal deficit, and now a mountain to cimb at the Allianz Arena.
While the debate will rage on whether it was a red card or no, my say is simple. Far too many games have been spoilt due to one poor refereeing decisions. A lack of consistency is a major issue. The goalkeeper came forward, but Robben had already bought the ball down. There was no way Szczesny would have moved out of the way in a fraction of a second. Moreover, the ball seemed to be going out for a goal kick. It was too harsh a decision.
The social media has been out brandishing swords at the performance and general attitude of Mesut Ozil. He had a shocker at Anfield, slighly raised his game against Manchester United, and had a good outing against Liverpool in the FA Cup. He still remains our top assist provider, with 12 in all competitions. Yesterday was his chance to slay Bayern, being a boy from Werder Bremen, but he was at best average on the night, after the penalty miss. It drained him of his confidence, and as Arsene Wenger pointed out, he was shaking his head even 10-15 minutes after the miss.
His attitude has been of concern in recent times, with Mertesacker, and Flamini last night, having to remind him that he was playing for the cannon on the chest. He has come in with the tag of a superstar signing, and probably some rest would do him a world of good. This is his first season in England, and he has played in the busy Christmas schedule, when he was accustomed to rest. Too many games have definitely taken a toll on him. He was 3rd in the list of distance covered in the match, but there was a general lack of interest in helping Monreal keep out the threat of Robben and Rafinha.
Flamini and Wilshere toiled hard all night long in midfield, while Chamberlain was lively in the opening exchanges. Sanogo was a wild card, had a decent games, but surely we need to have some sort of solid back up. The Champions League knockout round against the best side on the planet, isn’t exactly a game you want to experiment in.
I was surprised by the manager’s decision to sacrifice a lively Cazorla than a forlorn Ozil. The Spaniard is giften in wriggling out of cramped spaces, and would have been immense, when Arsenal had seen so little of the ball. Arsenal’s defenders put in a massive shift last night, Laurent Koscielny in particular was impressive.
His tackles, his forays into midfield and his general levels of commitment were top notch. Mertesacker complimented him well again. The manager should also now look into the form of Fabianski who made some good saved last night, and give him an extended run in the side.
Last season, the Gunners overturned a 3-1 home loss to a 2-0 win in Munich, and were still knocked out. This time, they have lost 2-0, and will attempt to overturn the same in 3 weeks time. I am an optimist, but realistically speaking, this tie is done and dusted. Bayern surely will have learnt their lesson, and while Arsene Wenger will give it a real go, and I really hope there is some sort of miracle, it is time we became pragmatic, and concentrate on the league and the FA Cup. Starting with the home clash against Sunderland on Saturday.
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