Whilst there is certainly no shame in losing to a top team – a team that currently sit 15 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga having lost just one game in the league this season – there is certainly a feeling that it’s a shame the Gunners simply couldn’t compete with last year’s Champion’s League finalists.
They couldn’t compete on paper, looking at the teamsheets, and they couldn’t compete on the pitch for the chance to go through to the quarterfinals of the competition. They now face a trip to Munich with a two-goal deficit to overturn and they will need to score three away goals just to level it.
Arsenal failed to show up for most of the first half – whether it was the pressure of the occasion, the class of the opposition, or the defeat last weekend, Arsenal let in two goals in the first half an hour of the 180 minute tie and found themselves chasing the game in the second half.
They did come out with more energy and ambition in the second half – they did pass the ball around well in dangerous areas, searching for the equalizer after Lukas Podolski got them back in the game. They enjoyed 55% possession overall and had some decent chances to level the scoreline.
However, on 63 minutes Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes threw on Arjen Robben for Franck Ribery and on 73 minutes Luiz Gustavo for the opening goal scorer Toni Kroos. Four minutes later Mario Mandzukic scored Bayern’s third and Arsenal’s hopes of an equalizer evaporated into thin air.
The stadium was rocking – a rare occurrence at the Emirates – the fans sang the team off at half time with a resounding rendition of ‘We Love You Arsenal, We Do’ and, as the team worked the ball around the Bayern penalty area with a little more verve and appetite, Olivier Giroud’s name was being called from the stands.
Arsene Wenger brought the Frenchman on after 72 minutes and the Gunners’ changed their game-plan to include his aerial threat, no longer passing around the box but aiming crosses and long-balls in his general direction.
The problem is, Giroud was Wenger’s only real and capable option from the bench. Bayern could have brought on Mario Gomez if they’d have wanted to. The Arsenal bench was devoid of senior world-class quality – with all due to respect to Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky, they lack both fitness and form and young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still a diamond in the rough.
Arsene Wenger has sold exceptionally gifted players – Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song, and Samir Nasri to name but a few. Where is Arsenal’s quality now? It belongs to other clubs.
Jack Wilshere had another good game; Santi Cazorla was bright and worked very hard, as did Mikel Arteta and Lukas Podolski. Theo Walcott struggled to get a hold over the game – as a lone striker, his lack of physical presence makes him very difficult for his teammates to find.
To get the ball into his feet or for him to run on to, the pass has to be exquisite and a number of the Gunner’s attempted through balls either bounced off him or were intercepted.
Arsenal’s ‘Invincible’ side had Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp but they also had Sylvain Wiltord and Nwanko Kanu on the bench. The team that made it to the Champion’s League final in 2006 still had Henry and Bergkamp but also had Jose Antonio Reyes and Robin van Persie to throw into the mix.
This Arsenal team has, firstly, not one player of that quality – Cazorla and Podolski come close, admittedly – never mind two players of that quality on the bench. Arsene Wenger was content to head into the second half of this season with just one recognized centre-forward in Giroud. He’s very fortunate that injuries haven’t made matters worse.
Arsenal were beaten by one of the best football teams in the world but they were beaten because they no longer are one of the best teams in the world. The Champion’s League knockout rounds are played between the best teams in Europe by the best players in the world and Arsenal, in their current shape, no longer fall into that category.
Not one of last night’s starting 11 would be considered a ‘star’ at Bayern Munich or Barcelona or Real Madrid or Manchester United and if Arsenal fans are brutally honest with themselves, none of those players are genuine ‘stars’ at Arsenal.
image: © michael hilton