Arsenal defeated Bayern Munich 2-0 on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League as the German champions tasted defeat for the first time this season with their 12-game winning spree coming to a shuddering halt in London.
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Here’s three things we learned from the Emirates as Arsene Wenger became the first manager to beat both of Pep Guardiola’s side — Barcelona and Bayern — in UCL play.
CECH THE DIFFERENCE
After leaving Petr Cech on the bench for Arsenal’s opening two UEFA Champions League groups (both defeats against Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos) Wenger had his hands tied and for the visit of Bayern he had to start his No. 1 goalkeeper. After naming his second choice goalkeeper David Ospina as Arsenal’s UCL ‘keeper for the season, the Colombian was injured on international duty last week, so up stepped Cech for his first European performance for his new club since switching over from Chelsea in the summer. He had himself one heck of a game. Pulling off two smart reaction stops in the first half from Douglas Costa and Robert Lewandowksi, then two more in the second half from Costa and Lewandowski again, he proved to be the difference on a night where Manuel Neuer threatened to steal the show with his wonder-stop from Theo Walcott in the first half.
Despite that save defying belief, it was Cech who was the better goalkeeper overall as Neuer came flying out and missed the ball on Olivier Giroud‘s goal which put Arsenal in front. Displays like this make you realize exactly why Wenger had to sign Cech when the opportunity arose this summer. At the age of 33 he still has almost a decade left in the tank and Arsenal has a world-class ‘keeper between the sticks. It wasn’t just his quick reactions or fine stops but his ability to marshal the backline and breath confidence into the players ahead of him which proved just how good Cech is.
On a night where Arsenal chose to sit back, let Bayern have possession and be patient to spring counter attacks, the biggest reason they won the game wasn’t the two goals they scored but the confidence they gained from seeing Cech thwart Bayern on several occasions.
PATIENT ARSENAL PREVAIL
Talking of stopping Bayern, the Gunners halted Guardiola’s side with a newfound patience which proves the team is maturing before our eyes. I’ve pointed to it before but I will point to it again, in the second half of last season the 2-0 win away at Manchester City proved the Gunners can dig in, crowd the midfield and spring counter attacks or grab goals from set pieces to win games dirty. That is exactly what they did against Bayern and its takes almost as much bravery to say ‘okay, you have the ball, see what you can do with it’ to a team like Bayern than it does to take on the mantle of possessing the ball yourself and dictating the tempo. Arsenal usually does the latter, but this patient display proved they can hold teams off and have a solid defensive base which they can rely on. Bayern had 73 percent of the play and although Cech kept the Gunners in it at times, their defense never looked massively uncomfortable.
Yes, we all drool over the Gunners’ sublime movement and ball control. They should not lose that but having the ability to say ‘ you know what, we can’t out-possess Bayern… let’s sit back’ takes a lot of guts. Wenger has finally found a way to frustrate one of the best teams in Europe and because of that, with three games to go in the group stages he has given his side a much better chance of advancing to the last 16. It will be interesting to see how Arsenal approach the game two weeks from now when they visit the Allianz Arena to play Bayern. Can they perfect the patient plan in successive games against the German pass masters?
On this showing the $34 million Bayern paid Shakhtar Donetsk for Douglas Costa in the summer looks an absolute bargain. The 25-year-old Brazilian looked the real deal on Tuesday, causing problems with his pace and trickery in the final third and on another night he could have had at least two goals. Costa was wanted by plenty of Premier League clubs in the summer but Bayern pounced to snap him up and with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben often injured, it looks like the Bavarians have found a man who can slot into their spots seamlessly. With Robben nearing full-fitness, it will be a frightening prospect for Arsenal, or any other team for that matter, to keep the duo quiet two weeks from now. However it is Costa, not Robben, who will give Arsenal’s defenders the sleepless nights.