The statistics said it all: second half possession 88%; 863 passes with an accuracy rate in excess of 95%; 147 passes completed by Toni Kroos, the same as the entire Arsenal team; Arsenal 0 Bayern Munich 2. What more can you say?
Arsenal have got to score three goals or improve their penalty-taking skills if they want to win through to the last eight of the UEFA Champions League. When was the last time that a team scored three against Bayern Munich?
This was just one of the many questions being asked as the 60,000 crowd filed out of the Emirates Stadium after being treated to a master-class by the European – and World – champions. Not that many of them appreciated that as they were too concerned with the way Arjen Robben fell in the penalty area, the injustice of the sending off of goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and Mesut Ozil’s poorly-executed penalty kick. They ignored the fact that Arsenal were outclassed by Bayern and would probably have been even if the Gunners had kept 11 on the pitch.
Bayern’s overall possession was something like 78%, that’s an astonishing figure in a game at this level. Would, for example, Arsenal clock-up a figure like that if they were to play Boreham Wood or Bishop’s Stortford in the FA Cup? I doubt it. It serves to illustrate the gulf between Bayern and their hosts.
There’s also a world of difference between the Arsenal of October 2013 and Arsene Wenger’s side in February 2014. Autumn’s golden fruit, Aaron Ramsey, is not in the side and since he was injured, Arsenal haven’t been quite the same. And the crowd, so optimistic and joyous early on this season, have become slightly irritated by Ozil. Jack Wilshere also seems to have fallen out of favour with the North Bank, and there are rumblings that Wenger’s hesitancy in the transfer market and his tactical limitations are preventing Arsenal from truly moving forward. It’s beginning to look a lot like…well, the past few years of promise and little delivery. Ozil was seen as the start of a new, liberal era at the Emirates, but one swallow doesn’t make a summer and Ozil is that swallow. He needs a flight of the damned things!
Certainly, Arsenal need a striker to complement the undoubted talent they have elsewhere in their line-up. Ozil looks tired, but that could be because he’s playing more games than he’s been used to in recent years. The statistics don’t necessarily support this view – he’s played 50-plus club games for the past three years, but when you dig a bit deeper, you discover that Ozil has completed 20 of his 30 starts, while in the past 90-odd games for Real Madrid, he completed just 33. It may also be that the hurly-burly of the Premier may be too taxing – after all, he’s been in La Liga with Real, which amounts to half-a-dozen really tough games and auto-pilot for many of the others.
Arsenal started well enough against Bayern although Szczesny had to pull of a spectacular one-handed save from Kroos. The Gunners gave as good as they got in the early stages, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Yaya Sangogo’s youthful verve possibly surprising Bayern. But the penalty was the peak of their real threat. Once Ozil allowed Manuel Neuer to read his actions, the confidence seemed to drain and by the interval, all was lost. A reasonable question would be, why did Ozil take the kick when he has obviously practiced often with Neuer on national team duty? And Neuer’s a formidable obstacle as his outstretched save showed.
At the same time, however, in defence Arsenal were able to deal with the front-line threat quite well, with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny both dominant and handling Mario Mandzukic’s limited threat.
But the game changer came in the 37th minute when Kroos set-up Robben and, as he pirouted into the area, he was caught by Szczesny. It was a penalty, although Robben’s slightly dramatic response may have accelerated the decision to send the Arsenal keeper off. By the letter of the law, it was a red card, but the Emirates Stadium wasn’t having it. Robben had cheated. He hadn’t, but he’s an easy guy to target, always has been. There was no need for Wenger to have his say, it wasn’t going to change anything, but it looked as if he exchanged words with Robben. The Dutchman was abused every time he touched the ball.
The biggest cheer of the evening from the Arsenal contingent came when David Alaba stroked his kick against the outside of the post. The neighbours must have assumed the Gunners had scored. “Can you believe it…TWO Germans missing penalties,” came the response with roaring laughter. Note to North Bank: Alaba is Austrian. When this was pointed out, one quickfire response came from a wag who knew his history: “Oh well, it used to be German.” Don’t mention the Anchluss.
The mood at the interval was on the verge of somber. Most people expected Bayern to take control and they did just that. From half-time until the hour mark, their possession ran to over 90%. The North Bank barely saw the ball in the second half, unless they had a pair of binoculars at hand. Bayern passed from flank to flank, teased Arsenal and ran them ragged at times. It was only a matter of time before they scored and in some ways, it was justice that Kroos broke the deadlock in the 53rd minute, stroking the ball home after Philipp Lahm had rolled it invitingly across the area.
Bayern’s fans, who had put on a display of olde-tyme scarf waving and colours aloft, were now bouncing up and down in celebration. Their team engaged in keep-ball Guardiola style, retaining possession for long periods. It could have been Barcelona 2009-11.
But they needed another goal to ensure their overwhelming dominance gave them a healthy lead for the second leg. It came two minutes from time. Lahm, again, creating a chance for second half substitute Thomas Muller to dive and send a tame but accurate header past substitute goalkeeper Fabianski. The night air resonated with the sound of comfortably padded seats being flicked up, signalling the exit of unhappy Arsenal fans. And probably that of their team’s Champions League hopes…
The second leg will be tough for Arsenal, but they will recall their win at the Allianz last season. Put your money on them for the FA Cup this season. The Emirates should have something to cheer about.