Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Arsenal 1-3 Bayern Munich

Arsenal played at home to Bayern Munich last night in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie. After losing at home to Blackburn in the FA Cup on Saturday it was Arsenal's last chance of a trophy this season. Before the game the odds on Arsenal winning the competition would have been long, but they were an awful lot longer by the time it was over.

Arsene Wenger picked the team that he was expected to pick with Theo Walcott leading the attack and Olivier Giroud on the bench. It meant there was a place for Aaron Ramsey in the midfield with Santi Cazorla moving to a role on the right hand side of the attacking trio. With no recognized left back available Thomas Vermaelen had to play in that position for the night.

Bayern had looked very good in winning their group to get this far and have a commanding lead at the top of their domestic league. For Arsenal to have any hope of progressing to the next round they knew they had to win their home leg. It wasn't going to be an easy task, but I felt the players might be able to raise their game and do it.

Right from the start Bayern closed Arsenal down in every single part of the pitch and Arsenal found it hard to cope. They were quicker to every loose ball and broke forward with pace and purpose at every opportunity. I hoped that Arsenal could ride the storm and slowly get a foothold in the game.

It didn't work out that way though with Bayern scoring with their first shot on target after only seven minutes. With a central defender playing at left back Arsenal were caught very narrow and Toni Kroos got on the end of a ball pulled back across the Arsenal box from that side. His first time shot from the edge of the box bounced into the pitch and flew into the corner of the net to put Bayern ahead.

It was just what Arsenal didn't need and Bayern assumed complete control. Arsenal couldn't even muster an attempt on target while Bayern looked likely to score every time they went forward. Just before the midway point in the half Bayern doubled their lead.

A corner from Arsenal's left was headed at Wojciech Szczesny who could only parry it into the air. Thomas Muller was the first to react and he poked the ball into an empty net. At 2-0 down Arsenal looked likely to concede even more rather than make their way back into the game.

It stayed that way until half time and I had little hope of Arsenal mounting any sort of comeback after the break. The difference in class and tactical nous between the teams was far too obvious in that first half and more of the same seemed on the cards.

Arsenal did manage to up the pace after the break and they eventually started to cause Bayern problems. It took only nine minutes for them to pull a goal break after Bayern did their best to emulate Arsenal's defending. Lukas Podolski headed unchallenged into an empty net from an Arsenal corner which bounced six yards out before it reached him.

Szczesny has received some criticism for his display last night, but the Bayern keeper made a complete mess of coming for the corner. He tried to claim he was fouled but there wasn't an Arsenal player anywhere near him. If Szczesny had made such a huge blunder he would be getting absolutely slated today.

Arsenal could sense they had a chance of rescuing something from the game and they tried their best to level the game. All the time Bayern looked very dangerous on the break though and looked just as likely to restore their two goal advantage.

With 20 minutes left Arsenal brought on Giroud and Tomas Rosicky for Podolski and Ramsey. Within a couple of minutes Giroud almost leveled the game, but the keeper managed to get something to his first time effort. It proved to be costly as Bayern scored their third goal only four minutes later.

Yet again they found time and space on the Arsenal left and the cross from Lahm was met by Mandzukic at the far post. The ball seemed to hit his ankle and loop high into the air before going into the net. There was little Szczesny could do but pick the ball out of the net for the third time.

After that Jack Wilshere went on a one man crusade to try to get Arsenal back into the game but it was in vain. It was Bayern who came closest to extending their advantage. At the final whistle Arsenal had lost 3-1 at home and they face a daunting prospect in the away leg.

The thought of Arsenal going to Munich and throwing everything they have at Bayern isn't a good one. They are bound to leave themselves open at the back and the aggregate score could be embarrassing if they do. In my opinion their Champions League chances died last night and they have only their pride to play for in the return leg.

I thought it was a mistake to play Walcott as the central striker and the sight of Arsenal trying to cross the ball to him was ridiculous. I'm not sure he's ever scored a headed goal and with him in that position Arsenal had to try to get behind Bayern or hit them on the break. They did neither properly in the first half in particular.

Wilshere spoke afterwards about how the players didn't perform well in the first half and how maybe nerves played a part in it. I think they didn't perform well because they weren't allowed to. Bayern approached the game with a far superior game plan to Arsenal and it paid off.

The closed down Arsenal players in possession very quickly and swarmed forward when they won the ball. They looked like they targeted Bacary Sagna to me as he always seemed to have three players around him as soon as he received a pass. When he did get a chance to get forward and get the ball into the Bayern box he invariably hit the first man with his cross.

Yet again Arsenal had to wait until half time to come up with a plan to counter what Bayern were doing. They were much better in that second half, but why could things not have been changed before that. It's well documented that Arsenal have started too many big games slowly this season, but that was the case yet again.

Bayern obviously did their homework and looked to kill the game as early as possible and it worked. Before Arsenal even had an attempt at goal Bayern were two up and Arsenal were the home team. When will it be Arsenal who do their homework properly and come out with a game plan to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

In the cold light of day Arsenal just weren't good enough in terms of their style of play and their tactics too. This was as close to a full strength team as Arsenal are going to get at this point in the season, but they were completely outplayed. Arsene Wenger was completely out thought in the tactical battle and his methods have to be questioned.

Next up is Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon and it's a game that has to be won. There can be no Champions League hangover and the team has to go out there and show they can play well. They are better than Villa and have to prove it.

The manager has to send them out there to show that they know what it means to have the privilege of playing for Arsenal. He has to get his tactics right and motivate his players to perform on the day. If they can't beat Villa it will be the end of a disastrous week for the club.

While the Bayern defeat may be forgivable because they are an excellent team the FA Cup loss to Blackburn is not so easy to forgive. A loss or draw against Villa would only add to the woe currently being felt by Arsenal fans. For the sake of the club and the manager they quite simply have to beat Villa.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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