For me, the main aim tonight wasn’t to progress as we blew that chance in the first leg — it was to come out of the game with our pride intact and something to take into our remaining fixtures. On that criteria it was a successful evening despite a second successive European exit at the hands of Bayern Munich.
Wenger raised some eyebrows by fielding Oxlade-Chamberlain in the hole behind Giroud, with Cazorla sitting next to Arteta in midfield and Ozil and Podolski out wide. There was the occasional swapping of positions between Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain, but it was still a strange choice because although the Ox was outstanding (and indeed our only outlet) Ozil was anonymous before being subbed off at halftime and Cazorla ended up being at fault for their goal — a central midfielder he ain’t.
Ozil is wasted out wide. Apparently he was hooked because of a slight injury, but nevertheless he should he played in the hole or not at all as he doesn’t have the appetite to track back. On a couple of occasions in the first half he was guilty of not putting a shift in which could’ve cost us had the home side been more ruthless.
That being said we held our own for the first half without ever threatening. Bayern had us under pressure and had 71% of the possession, but only created half chances instead of clear cut ones. The closest they came was a correctly disallowed goal, whereas a tame Giroud header from a corner was the only occasion Neuer was troubled at the other end.
In the second half Arteta was lucky to stay on after a tackle worthy of a second yellow before Bayern seemed to kill the tie with a 55th minute goal. Ribery passed to Schweinsteiger, who Cazorla failed to track, and the German beat Fabianski from close range.
Just two minutes later though we were level when Podolski got away with a sly push on Lahm and lashed a terrific shot into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
After that the nervy, unsure Bayern of last year’s second leg emerged and suddenly we were in with a shout. We visibly gained confidence and were much more of an attacking threat, but the necessary quality wasn’t there in the final third and Bayern slowly reasserted their dominance.
By the 90th minute Guardiola’s side were in control once more and Robben won a penalty when Koscielny clipped him in the area. Fabianski did well to keep out Muller’s spot kick and earn us a creditable draw, but it doesn’t hide the fact we were well beaten over two legs.
There’s no disgrace in that of course. It is hard to criticise the team for losing to the best side on the planet. Tonight’s efforts have rightly been praised as the players did their best and I take my hats off to them, but all the talk of ‘brave’ Arsenal is starting to wear a bit thin now. These glorious failures have been going on for a few years and whilst I’m not saying we should be beating the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona, I am concerned that the circumstances surrounding our European exits are masking the real issue.
Here’s what I mean — in 2011 Robin van Persie was harshly sent off as we lost to Barcelona. Arsene and his followers used that decision as a shield to deflect attention from the real issue, which was that a lack of investment on the pitch was the main reason we weren’t good enough to progress.
A year later a swashbuckling 3-0 win over Milan following a 4-0 first leg hammering is used as a shield to deflect attention from the real issue, which was that a lack of investment on the pitch was the main reason we weren’t good enough to progress.
Last season a stunning 2-0 win in Munich is used as a shield to deflect attention from the real issue, which was that a lack of investment on the pitch was the main reason we weren’t good enough to progress.
And this season a missed penalty and avoidable red card in the first leg is used as a shield to deflect attention from the real issue, which is that a lack of investment on the pitch meant we weren’t good enough to progress.
See the pattern here? It’s the same old story. Clever Arsene always finds something to point at so that nobody discusses just why we are so far behind the top eight teams in Europe, despite being the fourth richest club in the world and having £120m sitting in the bank. Tonight he claimed that Robben “is a great player as well as a very good diver” so that all the headlines will be about Robben diving instead of Arsenal making no impression in Europe once again. Yes we qualify for the knockout stages every year, but we never seriously threaten to win it. Pocket the cash and aim for the knockout stages again next year Arsene — that seems to be his remit from our unambitious owner and us fans deserve better.
Our shortage of pacy players sums up the lack of investment issue. It is such an important part of the modern game and tonight it was our best hope of getting a result. The correct tactics would’ve been to play two holding midfielders (Flamini should’ve started alongside Arteta) and then four men who would’ve been tasked with hitting Bayern on the counter — two wide players and a number 10 playing just off the front man. Of those, only the Ox has any pace and that’s not good enough. Yes we badly missed Walcott and if he’d been fit we could’ve fielded him and Ox wide, but you can’t pin your whole strategy on the fitness of one injury-prone player.
Here are the attacking players in our first team who have pace — Walcott (24 years old), Oxlade-Chamberlain (20), Sanogo (21), Gnabry (18) and Miyaichi (21). Of those five players only the first two have the necessary experience to be any use in matches against good Premiership and European sides. That is a shocking squad imbalance. I think Wenger can turn them all into good players in time and blooding youngsters is an important part of the job which I like to see happen at Arsenal. But do so many of our speed demons have to be raw youngsters we snapped up on free transfers? Why can’t one or two be established players who can be relied upon in big matches such as this? In the 87th minute when Gnabry collected a pass and shot over, Clive Tyldesley said: “That’s asking a lot of a player with so little first team experience”. Exactly Clive, you summed up my frustration perfectly. Why are we in the position where we have to throw on an 18 year old to try and salvage something whilst leaving a large transfer war chest untouched?
The general consensus seems to be that we did the best we could tonight. With the squad we have, yes, I agree — the players gave their all. But has Arsene done the best he could with the resources at his disposal to have a proper go at the Champions League and Premiership? Not in my book. And that had better change over the summer or next year we’ll all be hearing about another glorious failure from brave Arsenal.
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