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.
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.
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.