Three things we learned in Arsenal’s battling defeat to Bayern Munich

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LONDON — Following Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich on Wednesday, there were plenty of talking points.

And then some.

Two penalties were missed, Arsenal had their goalkeeper sent off, the home side dug in and defended resolutely, while two moments of genius won Bayern the game. It was an exhilarating knockout game in Europe’s premier club competition.

Without further adieu, let’s see what we learned.

Arsenal’s confidence takes a hit, but they’ve been here before

Not only did Arsenal go toe-to-toe and battle admirably with Bayern in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League knockout game, the Gunners obliterated Munich in the opening 20 minutes as they out worked their German counterparts and forced the issue time and time again. Arsenal’s stirring start should’ve been capped by a 1-0 lead after seven minutes, but German international Mesut Ozil saw his spot kick saved by Manuel Neuer. Then it all came crumbling down in the 36th minute, and the Gunners never really recovered.

Arjen Robben burst through and was taken out by Arsenal ‘keeper Wojiech Szcezeny. Red Card. Penalty kick to Bayern. And Arsenal’s Champions League dreams looked in ruins. A brief respite arrived as David Alaba put the spot kick wide, much to the delight of the home crowd, and the Gunners regrouped impressively. But in the 52nd minute Toni Kroos bent in a marvelous effort that put Bayern 1-0 up and the remainder of the game resembled a defense vs. attack training drill. Bayern attacked, Arsenal defended, and the Gunners almost held out with 10-men.

(MORE: Munich grabs control over Arsenal in heavyweight battle)

But like Manchester City had conceded a killer second goal against Barcelona late in the game on Tuesday, Arsenal did the same when Thomas Muller headed home with a perfect run to make it 2-0 as the clocked ticked to 90 minutes. The mountain Arsenal have to climb got considerably steeper with that one flick of Muller’s head. But this resolute defensive display, coupled with the fact that they went to the Allianz and won 2-0 last season after a two-goal deficit from the first leg, should give them a chance to overcome the reigning European champions. A very slim one though.

Ozil failed to show up once again

Mesut Ozil. The man, the myth, the legend. In the opening stages the German attacker looked on his game, with darting runs from the left and intelligent balls causing Bayern’s defense all kinds of problems. Then he was found on the left side of the box by Jack Wilshere with a sublime pass and the German showed why Arsene Wenger spent all his transfer kitty to bring Ozil to the Emirates. A clever drag back tricked Jerome Boateng and won Arsenal a penalty, that Ozil himself stepped up to take but never looked confident enough to convert. 13 games without a goal became 14, as Ozil’s $63 million pricetag all of a sudden looked astronomical as he hit his penalty tamely down the middle and Neuer saved to deflate the raucous crowd inside the Emirates. Arsenal had started superbly, but with Ozil’s failure to take a golden chance to put the Gunners 1-0 up against the reigning European Champions, the entire stadium sensed the North London club would rue that lazy swipe of their German superstars left foot.

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Kroos and Robben tore Arsenal apart in Bayern’s win.

That wasn’t the only lazy thing Ozil did, as the left winger somehow stayed on the pitch for the entire game but was lambasted by his own teammates, notably Mathieu Flamini, for failing to work back and track his runners as Arsenal tried to keep Bayernat bay. Too often this season Ozil has failed to turn up in the big games. Against Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and now Bayern, Arsenal’s record-signing hasn’t justified his pricetag. His lack of desire and drive will worry Arsenal’s fans.

Kroos and Robben are just as good as Ribery

Walking up to the Emirates Stadium, I overheard some Bayern fans bemoaning the absence of Franck Ribery from the team due to injury. They needn’t worry. Midfielders Robben and Kroos destroyed Arsenal time and time again as the deadly duo combined to win Bayern the penalty which Alaba should’ve converted. Kroos’ delicate chipped ball found Robben clean through and the Dutchman was clipped by Szcezeny to win the PK. That time Bayern didn’t go 1-0 up… but the next time Kroos and Robben combined, they did go ahead. The tiki-taka style Bayern’s new boss Pep Guardiola has implemented to devastating effect in Munich undid Arsenal, as in the 52nd minute Kroos and Robben passed back and forth multiple times, then Lahm played the ball to Kroos who was given too much space on the edge of the box and bent in a delicious effort to silence the home crowd. When Bayern had the ball in the final third, they often drove it out wide to Robben who jinxed inside, then out, before either whipping in wicked crosses or giving it back to Kroos to create another opening. The German international occupied the central area and sprayed the ball around majestically in his white boots. Afterwards Guardiola rightly lauded both players, and gave particular praise to Kroos.

With Ribery deemed as one of the three best players in the world last season, according to FIFA’s Ballon d’Or vote, if Robben and Kroos keep up this form they could surpass Bayern’s other talented attacker. Munich certainly didn’t miss their French attacker against Arsenal. Kroos and Robben ran the show.

Bentaleb joins Newcastle; Blades sign Robinson; Campana to Wolves

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Three Premier League clubs made signings on Tuesday as Nabil Bentaleb has joined Newcastle United, Leonardo Campana has arrived at Wolves and Jack Robinson has signed for Sheffield United.

Bentaleb, 25, has initially joined Newcastle from Schalke on loan with an option to make the deal a permanent one at the end of the season.

The former Tottenham midfielder will add extra quality to the engine room as Steve Bruce‘s side continue to sit pretty in midtable despite a laundry list of injuries to deal with.

“I’m very happy to come back to the Premier League, especially with a club such as Newcastle,” Bentaleb said. “The project really interested me. I wanted absolutely to come back to the Premier League. The coach had some trust in me and the club also – I saw that straight away – and I think it’s the perfect move for me.”

Bentaleb has so much promise and showed that as a youngster for Spurs and for Algeria at the 2014 World Cup and he was a regular at Schalke over the past few seasons before falling out of favor during the 2019-20 campaign as he is yet to make an appearance due to suffering a torn meniscus in September.

Wolves have been trying to complete the deal for Campana for some time but everything is now sealed for the Ecuador international to arrive in the Premier League.

Campana, 19, has been a star for Ecuador at youth international level and he’s signed a three-and-a-half year deal with Wolves to become the understudy to Raul Jimenez. He rose to prominence at the South American U20 Championships last summer as the top goalscorer at the tournament as Ecuador won the title. He has already graduated to the full national team and he is ready to get going in England.

“I am excited about the work the team has achieved this season. I know they support each other, their relationship with the manager is a good one and I know all the players get along really well. That motivated me to come here and to be part of this big family,” Campana said.

As for Robinson, 26, he arrives on a two-and-a-half year contract from Forest for an undisclosed deal as Blades boss Chris Wilder revealed he tried to sign the left-sided center back when he previously played for QPR.

“It’s a big confidence boost coming somewhere you know you’re wanted,” Robinson said. “The gaffer has done an unbelievable job over the last 3 years and I’m really excited to play under him. It’s a privilege to sign here, excited to be back in the Premier League I’m ready to show the fans why the gaffer has signed me.” 

Robinson, a Liverpool academy product who made his debut for them as a 16-year-old, will be one of Wilder’s three center backs and is keen to perform the overlapping role in Sheffield United’s quirky but hugely effective system.

Both of the signings are fairly prudent ones but bolster squads which need it after fine starts to the season as both Wilder and Bruce need extra players as they aim to push for at least a top 10 finish in the Premier League.

Mourinho denies bust-up with Rose

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Jose Mourinho has denied he has had a training ground bust-up with left back Danny Rose.

Reports had circulated that Rose and Mourinho were involved in a heated argument in training on Monday after the England left back was unhappy to be left out of the squad for the 0-0 draw at Watford on Saturday.

Mourinho had said that Rose was out injured with a back problem but the left back has since denied he wasn’t fit to play against the Hornets.

Speaking to the media ahead of Spurs’ home game against Norwich on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com), Mourinho wasn’t having any of it.

“I don’t know what you mean by tension in the air, I don’t have a problem with him,” Mourinho said. “On the Thursday before Watford late evening I got a call from my medical staff saying that Danny was calling them with a problem in his back and he wouldn’t train the next day. Friday it was a bit of a surprise to see him training, but even so I decided to play with (Japhet) Tanganga and have Ryan (Sessegnon) on the bench. That is the situation.”

Mourinho added that Rose’s display against Liverpool was “not phenomenal” and reading between the lines, he was dropped.

If there wasn’t an incident or at least some anger between Rose and Mourinho, why would reports of this nature surface?

With youngster Japhet Tanganga starting at left back for Tottenham, and doing a very good job as Mourinho praised him afterwards, it is understandable that Rose would have his nose put out of joint a little.

The England international has less than 18 months left on his current contract at Spurs and has already spoken publicly about his plans to run down that deal as chairman Daniel Levy hasn’t offered him a new deal.

It will be intriguing to see how this plays out as Tanganga now seems to be Spurs’ first choice left back and Rose will have to be happy with playing a bit-part role between now and the end of the season.

His experience and quality is undoubted but with Spurs’ defensive unit all over the place this season, Mourinho is well within his rights to mix things up with formations and personnel as he tries to make Tottenham tough to beat.

Solskjaer: United have made “strides forward”

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Ole Gunnaer Solskjaer believes his Manchester United side have taken “strides forward” following their 2-0 defeat at bitter rivals Liverpool on Sunday.

United were outplayed for the vats majority of the game and were lucky to be only 1-0 down heading into the 90th minute but the grit and determination they showed impressed Solskjaer who lauded his young team.

Without the injured star duo of Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba for the daunting trip to the Premier League leaders, United’s manager was in a positive mood ahead of their clash against Burnley on Wednesday (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

“We lost to Liverpool. A team that you all say are fantastic and we’ve been in the game until the last kick of the ball. For me, that’s strides forward,” Solskjaer said. “Of course we’re disappointed about losing the game. We don’t want to be behind them in the league. But there are signs there that we’re on the right track, definitely.”

Is Solskjaer’s positivity misplaced?

Some would argue that United were lucky that Liverpool’s finishing was lackluster and that is true but the Red Devils hung in there and should have equalized in the second half but Anthony Martial blazed over.

They were missing at least four or five players in key areas for the trip to United as Rashford, Pogba and Scott McTominay were out injured and they badly need another attacking midfielder (ahem, Bruno Fernandes) to help with their play in the final third.

Solskjaer is right, there were positives for United. Fred played extremely well in midfield and both Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka stood tall defensively out wide. But the main takeaway from their trip to Liverpool was that United were delighted to not lose by three or four goals. The gulf in class between the two teams was clear for all to see and although United are trying to sort out their disjointed and confused squad by signing young, talented players, they are so far off Liverpool it is scary.

USMNT youngster Vassilev praised by Villa boss

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18-year-old USMNT youngster Indiana Vassilev has been praised by Aston Villa boss Dean Smith after making his Premier League debut at the weekend.

Vasillev came on for the final 25 minutes at Brighton and Hove Albion with Villa 1-0 down and helped them rescue a point as his run opened up the chance for Jack Grealish to score a late equalizer.

The lively attacking midfielder/forward has excelled in Villa’s reserve side after his arrival in England in the summer of 2018 following impressive displays for the U.S. youth national teams.

With Villa struggling with injuries up top after main striker Wesley went down with a season-ending injury early this month, Smith is clearly ready to put his faith in Vassilev.

“He is definitely ready to start,” Smith said. “The kid’s a bright spark, and we’ve seen that when he’s come on so far. He gave them (Brighton) problems on Saturday when he came on. It was a super ball from Douglas but, unless Indi makes that run down the side, he doesn’t drag Webster across, and Jack get in for the goal. He knows what he’s doing up there, he’s got a lot of pace, and he can run all day as well.”

Villa’s boss didn’t stop there though, as he also revealed that the young striker born in Savannah, Georgia has the backing of the senior players around him to go on and become a regular contributor in the Premier League.

“I’ve never been afraid to go and put young kids in if I feel they’re ready. I congratulated him after the game and said, ‘You’re a Premier League player now.’ He’s surprised me in a good way,” Smith added. “Sometimes when you give an opportunity to a young player they can sink or swim. He is certainly a swimmer. He has looked really good so far. You can always tell how the reaction is through the other players, in their relationships with them. You can see them all behind him. He goes in and puts a shift in for them. If you do that and have quality to add to it you will do alright in the dressing room. He’s got a goalscoring ability, he knows where the back of the net is, he knows what runs to make. Tactically he’s intelligent. Physically he’s impressive as well.”

Vassilev comes from a long line of soccer players and his father, grandfather and great-grandfather all played in Bulgaria and he was born and raised in the USA after his parents emigrated from the eastern European country in the early 1990s.

It looks like the USMNT have another top talent breaking through in Europe which is great news for Gregg Berhalter and potentially even better news for Villa as they badly need a forward to deliver goals in their fight against relegation from the Premier League.

Expect to see more cameos, and maybe even starts, from Vassilev in the final months of the Premier League season.