Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich. The scene of gameweek 3’s biggest surprise in the Champions League. Arsenal sat back, absorbed pressure and conceded possession to then score two at the Emirates and take the three points. Their Champion League ambitions back on track in 90 miraculous minutes after two insipid defeats in their opening two games. If the 90 minutes of the performance at the Emirates was miraculous, then we have run out of superlatives for the opening 45 minutes in Munich as Bayern and Guardiola unleashed a footballing lesson of possession, flexibility and most crucially the Dutch via Barcelona inspired total football philosophy of Senor Pep.
The opening 10 minutes was a broken up affair of misplaced passes yet these opening moments offered some proof that Arsenal could have developed a certain new ‘big game’ mentality, visible since that defeat of Manchester City back in January. Happily sitting back and allowing Bayern time on the ball, Arsenal certainly seemed to have shaken off the fragility that has set them back in the ‘Emirates years’ so far. Then Bayern kicked on and went mad. In the 10th minute the face of the game changed as the Polish maestro, Robert Lewandowski beat the offside trap with Gabriel slow to step up. 4 goals in 4 games in the Champions League and 14 in 10 in all competitions, questions have to be asked to why there wasn’t more interest in the closing years of his Dortmund career. The early goal provided something of a catalyst to the game, with Arsenal responding almost immediately with some cute play around the box. As Monreal crossed the ball, Ozil’s effort was deemed to of struck his hand Kobe Bryant-esque and consequently ruled out for handball. The value of Cech cannot be underestimated. Over the summer, when Wenger bought him in to the club, people didn’t question Cech’s transfer but the lack of other activity and whilst Wenger’s unshaken confidence in this team continues to be admirable, his realisation a goalkeeping change was needed until Szczesny developed further undoubtedly has taken Arsenal to the next level with Cech in this game making smart saves from Coman and Lewandowski.
With the next 10 minutes being relatively quiet (allowing me to finish my last paragraph – these match reports are incredible hard, I won’t lie), pondering defending by Arsenal and the ever-pondering Mertesacker leads to the second goal as a scrappy clearance falls to the feet of Thomas Muller as his deflected shot goes into the bottom corner. Arsenal’s injury list certainly changed the way in which this particular game was going to be played, as Bayern Munich specifically targeted Arsenal’s right hand side, with replacements Joel Campbell and the increasingly hapless Debuchy patrolling down that particular flank. The pace and the flexibility offered by Coman and Costa allowed Bayern incredible width, and with the metronomic Thiago switching the play with consummate ease. The ability to change the attack down either flank led to yet another worldy of a save from Cech as Muller out muscles the Arsenal defence to poke the ball towards the top corner only for Cech to tip it over. A goal keeping miracle could only save Arsenal seemingly in this opening 45 minutes, and such a miracle wouldn’t occur this evening as Alaba picks up the ball in the centre field (he really is supposed to be left back isn’t he?!) and unleashes a fierce shot in to the top right hand corner in the 44th minute. The opening 45 minutes by Bayern Munich really could be one of the best team performances I personally have ever seen, and regardless of how much you could criticise Arsenal’s performance, Bayern Munich were as sumptuous as a cold tankard of beer in a Bavarian Beer Hall.
Oh to be a fly on the wall of the both dressing rooms at half time. It would have been truly intriguing to listen to two of football’s great articulators preaching two very different pages from the gospel of great football.
The second half started off in a truly beige affair as Arsenal tred to get some kind of foothold in the game, the strength of the Munich team was certainly underlined in the 54th minute as the incredibly impressive Kingsley Coman came off for Arjen Robben. To have such depth, any manager would be envious of the spoils at Guardiola’s disposal. It would be silly suggestion to say that Robben is good enough to score with his first touch, a throw away remark with your mates at the pub, but then Robben isn’t just anyone and this Bayern team isn’t just any team. Robben, on the pitch for 38 seconds, finds space in the box to finish a majestic move after a lovely cut back from the sensational David Alaba. Arsenal, when they can, do show that they can also play football, as Neuer makes a smart save after some good one touch football that leads to Cazorla getting off a sharp shot at goal. The openness of the game during the first 60 minutes was a far cry away from the discipline and the pressure of Arsenal’s Emirates performance, yet the moments when Arsenal can build an attack, their play was dangerous, even if they were 4-0 down by this point.
As the game progresses into its final third, the game appears almost anti-climactic in comparison to what had gone on before it, with Munich happy to let Arsenal have the ball and sit back. Arsenal’s perseverance paid off in the 69th minute as Sanchez clipped a ball towards for Giroud for the ever divisive Frenchman to bring the ball down on his chest, out muscle the recently brought on Benatia before hitting the ball down into the ground and into the back of the net. It is hard to not acknowledge the air of predictability that the second half was going to be played out in. After any 3-0 first half score line, the game lacked the intensity and the sheer accumulative brilliance of the first half of football. One bright point for Arsenal however will be the improvement of performance of Debuchy. I myself ridiculed the French right back after Arsenal’s Capital Cup tie against Tottenham however in the second half, Debuchy showed a slight return to form and a welcome return to form for Wenger with Bellerin potentially out for the North London Derby this coming Sunday. With Wenger making use of his bench with the likes of Chambers and the young Alex Iwobi coming on, Bayern got their fifth as Douglas Costa broke through the midfield with a now synonymous turn of speed to play a defence splitting pass on a plate for Muller to get his second and Bayern’s fifth in the game.
With Olympiakos winning their game against Zagreb, Arsenal’s Champions League adventure seems to be going out with a whimper. Tonight’s result however wasn’t the result that put Arsenal out of the Champions League, and the score line whilst embarrassing at first glance should suggest more about the level of performance by Bayern Munich than a spate of short comings for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. For Arsenal if it isn’t a case of the last 16 then I am sure it would be more preferred to be no Europa League as well, the league now a priority. For Bayern, Europe awaits and the Champions League is their oyster.
Starting XI’s on the Night
Bayern Munich XI: Neuer, Lahm, Boateng, Javi Martinez, Alaba, Alonso, Douglas Costa, Muller, Thiago, Coman, Lewandowski
Arsenal: Cech, Debauchy, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal, Cazorla, Coquelin, Campbell, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud