Losing to an outstanding Bayern Munich side is not like being beaten by Blackburn or Bradford. The shame tonight is not that we are (99%) out of another competition, but that all too familiar deficiencies in our game were the cause once again and nothing is ever done about them.
The main culprit was our infamous slow start. I didn’t expect us to come out of the blocks flying because confidence was low (0-0 at the break would’ve been a job well done) but to be 2-0 down inside 21 minutes and effectively out of the tie was ridiculous.
The manner of the goals were also depressingly familiar. Vermaelen lost possession on the halfway line and his vacant left back spot was exploited by Muller who whipped a cross to the edge of the area. If he was trying to pick out the unmarked Kroos then well played, but it looked like a stray ball that Kroos did brilliantly to lash past Szczesny.
The fact that Kroos was unmarked is what really annoyed me because it demonstrated the lack of defensive awareness that has blighted our game for a long, long time. Not from the defenders in this instance, but from the midfield. Take a look at the picture below of Muller crossing the ball and you will see Kroos on the edge of the D as Cazorla ambles slowly back, a few feet behind him, completely oblivious to any threat:
Wilshere is also ball watching on the far right of the frame, but he is further away. The responsibility lies with Cazorla to assess the situation and cover someone standing alone in a dangerous area. Bayern did it, all night long in fact. We didn’t get any space in and around the box as the Germans were disciplined and worked hard to defend as a team. We don’t like the dirty work though and Wenger doesn’t put much emphasis on it — witness also our lack of pressing throughout the night compared to how well Bayern closed us down.
The second goal was just embarrassing. Mertesacker was stood near van Buyten, but when the latter made a run to the near post Mertesacker had to stand and watch because he was leaving his zone. This allowed van Buyten a run on Ramsey and of course he beat the Welshman in the air, having all the momentum. Szczesny made a poor attempt at a save and Muller reacted quicker than Arteta to score. Schoolboy stuff all round. Lee Dixon said they used to defend zonally when he was at the club, so maybe the problem isn’t the system but that the players haven’t been sufficiently coached. Which of course comes down to Wenger.
Wenger also hurt us by playing the wrong line-up. Walcott is simply not yet good enough to lead the line against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. He’s done well up front against inferior sides like Newcastle and Reading, but tonight he looked lost. The service was also poor and we couldn’t get men to support him quickly enough on the few occasions he had possession. We looked better the minute he went out wide and crossed for Giroud to hit that shot straight at Neuer. That’s how we should have started, with Podolski on the left, Walcott on the right and Giroud up front.
After we went 2-0 down we seemed to lose our temperament with Arteta and Sagna committing shocking fouls for which they were rightly booked. I haven’t seen so many reckless tackles from an Arsenal side in a long time and Ramsey, Vermaelen and Podolski also saw yellow for poor challenges. A sign of frustration no doubt.
Mandzukic should have made it 3-0 before halftime but headed narrowly wide, a let off we looked like capitalising on when Podolski nodded home an erroneously awarded corner. The German side’s defending was just as bad as ours on that occasion, but unfortunately it was a one-off.
Giroud’s snap-shot could’ve made it 2-2 but instead Robben broke away down the right, fed the overlapping Lahm (with Cazorla again letting his man go) and his low cross was bundled in by Mandzukic. It was a lucky finish, but there was no injustice about the scoreline.
So the tie is as good as over. In the aftermath of the Blackburn defeat, here’s what Wenger said about facing Bayern Munich:
“It is a good opportunity to show that we have character and are men who can fight for each other. That is all you can do. You take a distance in terms of what people say and show how strong and good you are in the next game… We have a massive game on Tuesday night and we have to show that we have some response in the team.”
That sums it up really. I saw no character, no response and nobody willing to fight for each other except Wilshere (I’ve lost count of the times I’ve written ‘except Wilshere’ this season as he’s the only one truly immune from criticism). It’s further proof that Wenger is all about the spin. I expect to read similar propoganda about how we need to show our ‘mental strength’ in the build up to the second leg. If you took the time to analyse all of his quotes in retrospect you would see how much bullshit he comes out with.
So it’s on to Villa on Saturday, a team fighting for their lives who’ve had two weeks to prepare for the match. A friend of mine said if we lose to Villa it’ll be three trophies gone in the space of eight days — the FA Cup, the Champions League and Wenger’s favourite trophy, 4th place. I don’t know if it’s as drastic as that, but considering we’ve got to play Spurs and Everton straight afterwards there’s no room for error and certainly no room for the basic mistakes we made tonight.
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