As we entered the last few minutes of this game I was working out my match report in my head and it was quite positive. After all, a one goal deficit could be wiped out with a swift counter attack in Munich leaving us level on aggregate, away goals and with all the momentum. But then Thomas Muller snuck in behind Flamini to make it 2-0 and I can’t shake the feeling that his header has put the tie beyond our reach.
It could have been oh so different though if it weren’t for two moments of madness in the first half. We had made a really bright start, making a mockery of those (myself included) who though we’d be swept aside by the ruthless Bayern machine that has steamrollered all opponents in the motherland. Wenger’s brave, positive decision to go with the pace and vibrancy of Sanogo and Oxlade-Chamberlain over Giroud and Rosicky was refreshing and looked inspired as we dominated the opening exchanges.
What a difference to see a motivated Arsenal side start a match with purpose and drive for a change, making tepid performances like that against Man Utd and Liverpool at Anfield all the more puzzling and frustrating. All it needs is a positive attitude from the off, some pace in the side and look what we can do! More of the same please Wenger.
Despite our encouraging start it was Toni Kroos who had the first chance of the game when he brought a terrific save from Szczesny. A few minutes later Neuer made a smart stop from Sanogo as the Germans were forced onto the back foot, unable to cope with the direct running of the Ox and the swashbuckling Wilshere who was bossing midfield. Then Arsenal won themselves a spot kick their dominance deserved when a sublime piece of skill by Ozil drew a rash challenge from Boateng. Unfortunately, our German was outwitted by their German and Ozil’s tame stop-start penalty was easily swatted away by Neuer. Mad moment number one.
That missed opportunity seemed to take the sting out of our game and slowly but surely the visitors got on top. I remember seeing a possession stat after about 25 minutes that showed the Germans were now in charge and in truth we were doing well to stay in the match thanks to some good blocks from the likes of Mertesacker and Koscielny and some diligent tracking back from Flamini.
Stand him up Wojciech!
Mad moment number two came on 38 minutes when Szczesny recklessly clattered into Robben, conceding a penalty and earning a deserved red card. It was foolhardy because the Dutchman had plenty to do as the ball dropped over his shoulder — getting it under control was no easy feat as his touch proved, but by then Szczesny had run into him. For all his improvement this season, Szczesny showed he still needs to work on his temperament and his ill-advised gesture as he walked down the tunnel proves he has some growing up to do before he becomes the world class goalkeeper I think he will eventually be.
Alaba gave us something to hold on to when he missed the penalty, but the rest of the match was a non-event as Arsenal sat deep and tried to keep Bayern out. Kroos unleashed a brilliant shot out of nothing for the opener on 55 minutes and more heroic and frantic defending in equal measure kept the score down before Muller’s gut wrenching intervention two minutes from time.
Much has been said about us winning 2-0 there last year, but we caught a complacent Bayern cold that night and I can’t see them making the same mistake again. If you’ve already booked your ticket for the second leg you should sell it online here because it will most likely be a wasted trip. If we get the first goal in Germany then maybe we have a chance, but in reality we are paying for throwing away first place in our group with that avoidable loss in Naples back in December.
A Champions League exit is not the end of the world though should we succumb to the inevitable in Munich. Our small squad cannot cope with fighting on three fronts from March onwards so a dignified exit at the hands of the best team in Europe has its advantages as last season showed — I doubt we’d have gone on that remarkable league run to snatch 4th place at the death were we distracted by the Champions League.
Overall I am disappointed with the result but pleased with what I saw from the players tonight and also with Wenger for his positive team selection. He was ruthless to axe the off-form Giroud which reminded me of the way he dropped Vermaelen last season. To be fair to Giroud, even though he is not good enough to be our number one striker he has been run into the ground by Wenger over the season which is a contributory factor to his form tailing off so badly recently. I expect he will play at the weekend though because Sanogo (who did ok again) looked tired in the second half.
Ozil is another who needs a breather and Wenger really should rest him against Sunderland on Saturday. Cazorla only played 38 minutes tonight so will be fresh to play behind Giroud, and with two from Podolski, the Ox, Rosicky and Gnabry on the flanks we should have a team good enough to win while allowing Ozil 10 days rest until we play again.
It’s funny — after we beat Liverpool I wasn’t feeling too confident about the rest of the season because we hadn’t played well for a while, yet having lost tonight I’m relatively upbeat as we showed what we can do when we are motivated and positive. Here’s hoping the feel good factor continues against Sunderland on Saturday.
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