Arsenal left hoping for a miracle after brilliant Bayern rule first leg
- Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images
Champions League last 16, first leg: Arsenal 1 Bayern Munich 3
Arsenal know they will have to produce the performance of a lifetime to maintain any hope of winning silverware this season after a ruthless Bayern Munich took control of this last-16 Champions League tie.
Having stormed into a 2-0 lead with early goals from Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller, Arsenal were briefly given hope in the second half when Lukas Podolski halved the deficit against his former club.
But Mario Mandzukic’s third goal for the Germans 13 minutes from time gives the Bundesliga side a significant cushion for the second leg back in Bavaria on March 13. It is not one you can see last season’s beaten finalists relinquishing.
That will be of huge regret to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, but many of their frailties were on show here and, against a side in such rampant form as Bayern, they were like lambs to the slaughter for the opening quarter of the game.
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At 2-0 ahead and with Arsenal struggling to win back possession, a truly chastening evening looked on the cards. The Gunners salvaged some pride with a second-half comeback, but it was not enough against a side of such impressive personnel and pedigree.
It is now hard to think Arsenal’s season holds any more hope than securing a top-four place over the final 12 games of the Premier League season, and even that will take some doing.
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They will not say as much and will carry hope of a miracle into the second leg, but the first half was painful viewing for Arsenal fans. Despite a couple of early forays from Theo Walcott, it was clear that Bayern were a potent threat and it took them just seven minutes to take the lead.
Arsenal’s defending was sluggish as Muller was given space to deliver a cross from the Bayern right, and while the Gunners defence hesitated as the ball feel loose, Kroos swept it on the bounce past Wojciech Szczesny from the edge of the area.
The raucous bubble of atmosphere that had built up in the Emirates and was highlighted by firecracker smoke from the visiting fans was immediately punctured. Arsenal looked vulnerable and Bayern showed their quality by going straight for the kill.
Their second goal was another defensive disappointment that had Steve Bould shaking his head in the dugout. Daniel van Buyten’s near post run from a corner was simply not paid due attention, and although Szczesny seemed to have saved the Dutch defender’s header, he merely palmed it up in the air for Muller to convert from a yard out.
The Emirates grumbled its disapproval and there was the very real possibility of Arsenal buckling. Bacary Sagna was booked for a bad foul on Kroos and Mikel Arteta soon followed him into the referee’s notebook.
Arsenal were stunned but had only themselves to blame. Thomas Vermaelen was having a hideous first half at left-back and from Bayern’s umpteenth foray down that flank on the stroke of half-time Mandzukic sent a free header just past the post with Szczesny beaten.
Perhaps that felt like something of a reprieve for the Gunners at the break, because the game took on a different shape in the second half.
Chances were still at a premium, but then 10 minutes after the break Wenger may have felt that some of the bad luck his side have endured of late went the other way.
Santi Cazorla’s shot appeared to deflect off Podolski and go behind for a goal kick but the referee whistled for a corner. Perhaps Bayern were still scratching their heads at that as from Jack Wilshere’s delivery the Germans seemed to go to sleep and allowed the ball to travel across the danger area to Podolksi who headed it back across the exposed Manuel Neuer and into the net.
That was the lifeline Arsenal craved, and now it was Bayern’s turn to rock. The Germans had not conceded a goal in 2013 for over 650 minutes of football, but now they had to adjust with 35 minutes to preserve their lead.
Arsenal were back in the game and the tie, but they knew they had to find an equaliser to travel to Germany with any kind of real hope.
Wilshere was at the forefront for the home side now, driving forward from midfield and with Cazorla, moved infield in the second half while Aaron Ramsey was shifted out to the right, the pair took a hold on the game.
But, much like on Saturday against Blackburn, the vital goal would not come. Wenger threw on Olivier Giroud and Tomas Rosicky for Ramsey and Podolski with 20 minutes left, and seconds later came the moment that could have changed the tie.
Walcott, getting more change out of David Alaba than he had in the first half, crossed from the right and Giroud, with his first touch after coming on, connected well with a snap-shot but hit it straight at Neuer, who didn’t know too much about it as it rebounded to safety.
If the score had gone to 2-2 then, the final 18 minutes would have been very interesting. As it was Bayern went straight down to the other end and restored their two-goal lead with a goal that could prove so decisive.
Arsenal again allowed Lahm too much space on their left side, and from his cross Sagna and Mandzukic both went for the ball which spun up high and then into the net off a combination of both.
It was a bitter pill for Arsenal to swallow, but Bayern had been a cut above for most of the evening, and it will take some performance in Bavaria on March 13 to turn this tie around.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey (Rosicky, 71), Cazorla, Podolski (Giroud, 71), Walcott.
Subs not used: Mannone, Diaby, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Coquelin, Jenkinson.
Bayern Munich: Neuer, Lahm, Van Buyten, Dante, Alaba, Javi Martinez, Schweinsteiger, Muller, Kroos (Dias, 73), Ribery (Robben, 63), Mandzukic (Gomez, 77).
Subs not used: Starke, Shaqiri, Rafinha, Gustavo, Tymoschuk.
Referee: Oddvar Moen