Arsenal were outshot 23-5 and only created two chances, a formula that should have given them little chance to narrow the 3-1 lead Bayern Munich accumulated three weeks ago in London. But one of those shots was Olivier Giroud’s third minute goal. The second was Laurent Koscielny’s 85th minute header. Although Arsenal was dominated for the 81 minutes in between, the Gunners entered the final five-plus minutes of today’s match tied at three – one goal short of the most remarkable comeback in UEFA Champions League history.
Whether time ran out or reality woke up, Arsenal never found their history-making goal. Perhaps predictably, they never came close. Bruised by not defeated, Bayern saw out the final five minutes plus three minutes of stoppage time to move into the Champions League quarterfinals. Away goals served as the tiebreaker after Arsenal’s 2-0 victory at the Allianz Arena left the teams tied on aggregate, 3-3.
The final scoreline seems ridiculously close given the extent to which Bayern dominated the two legs. After falling 3-1 at home, Arsenal was given almost no chance on the road against the consensus best team in Europe. Even after their early goal, the task seemed impossible, particularly after they finished the first half outshot nine to one while barely holding the ball.
The numbers were worse by full-time, and only a 10-minute spell where Bayern tried to bleed out the match made the possession number respectable (54-46). But at the end of that spell, a Santi Cazorla corner kick was converted by Koscielny, equalizing for the Gunners.
Given the lopsided nature of the game, a 0-0 would have been a generous score. A 1-0 result would have been a rarity, but a 2-0? Arsenal was already dwelling in the realms of the remarkable. To ask for 3-0 would be too much, yet there they were, one freak play away from the unfathomable.
To their credit, Bayern buckled down and saw out the match, but their willingness to let Arsenal push them to the brink engenders serious doubts. This is not the type of performance we usually see from championship teams, and it’s not hard to imagine what teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, and even Borussia Dortmund would do giving similar opportunities. Arsenal is a decent team that was having an average day, yet they almost knocked Bayern Munich out of Champions League.
We alluded to this last night when discussing the Sounders’ flat start: Why do certain tendencies always seem to come through? Is it because they’re innate to their teams? Or it is because we’re looking for signs those qualities exist?
Tonight, Bayern showed the kind of fragility that was discussed in the wake of their upset in last year’s Champions League final. Their performance at the Emirates gave them enough breathing room to survive, but if this Bayern Munich shows up in the later rounds, all of the otherworldly quality they’ve shown throughout a dominant campaign will be wasted. This can not happen again, yet given the narrative surrounding FCB, can we be so sure they’ll perform to their potential in these next five Champions League matches?
Perhaps today was just a bad day – ironically so, given their dominance of most of the match. But that’s where the fragility comes in. Bayern can control 95 percent of a game, but in that five percent, they’re capable of shooting themselves in the foot.
In that way, timing was on Bayern’s side. If you’re going to have a bad game, best have it at home, with a 3-1 lead, against a team nobody expected to compete for Champions League.
Thanks to that coincidence, today may prove no more than a learning experience for Europe’s best team.