Whilst Arsenal fans will no doubt be disappointed by another early Champions League exit, the latest loss over two legs to the European champions is anything but an embarrassment. In fact, when one considers some of the fairly dramatic events that took place over the two matches, the Gunners could legitimately ask the question of ‘what might have been?’
Events seemed to conspire against Arsenal at the Emirates as first Mesut Ozil missed a penalty, then Kieran Gibbs was forced off with an injury and then Wojciech Szczesny conceded a penalty that resulted in him being given his marching orders. But even after such catastrophe, the Gunners never looked like capitulating. Sure, they conceded two goals, and Bayern had a lot more of the ball, but with ten men, the first leg was a thoroughly respectable performance.
Following the first leg, it was always going to be a tall order to go to the Allianz Arena and beat Bayern Munich by two goals, and thus it was proved on Tuesday night. However, Arsenal fans should feel anything but downcast by this result. Given the circumstances, these two legs highlighted the fact that on their day, Arsenal can match anyone.
Before anyone gets too concerned, I am not suggesting that Arsenal are as good a team as Bayern Munich. Guardiola’s men are currently the most impressive team in Europe, and it seems unlikely that any team will be able to topple them this year, with Chelsea and Real Madrid the only two real possibilities. However, what I am suggesting is that the Gunners did not look out of place on the Allianz turf, as so many teams that visit Munich do.
The 1-1 scoreline represented only the third time since Arsenal were victorious here last March that Bayern have failed to score at least two goals at home, and this owes as much to Arsenal’s defensive solidarity as to Bayern’s cautiousness. Guardiola was clearly well aware of Arsenal’s counter attacking threat, and his team were not their usual rampaging, high-pressing selves.
They did of course have a two-goal cushion, which makes it rather easier to sit back, but had they not had that cushion, they would have had no choice but to attack Arsenal and leave themselves vulnerable. Even with a two-goal lead, almost every time Bayern lost the ball in attack Arsenal were able to develop a counter attack through the speed and guile of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and it took a number of cynical fouls to stop the Englishman’s intelligent runs at the heart of the Bayern defence. Had Bayern not had their two-goal advantage, they would have had to press forward even further, and this potentially could have paved the way for Arsenal to carve them open on the break.
However, as we all know, there’s no use postulating what might have been. Arsenal lost the tie, fair and square, and even if Wenger is still sore about the Szczesny sending-off, most of us know that Bayern deserved to emerge victorious from this tie. However, what Arsenal did show is that they have the potential to disrupt the best teams in Europe, and if they’re able to keep their squad together and add a sprinkling of stardust up front, the Gunners have every chance of going further next year.
Of course, for them to have a chance of progressing further in next year’s competition, they actually have to be there. For that reason, Wenger’s attention must now turn towards a strong league finish and automatic Champions League qualification. Quite simply, their remaining fixtures in the month of March will make or break their league campaign. Sunday sees them face Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the North London derby before they visit Chelsea the following Saturday. A loss at Tottenham would see them a mere four points behind their rivals, whilst defeat at Stamford Bridge could see Spurs close the gap to only one point. Given that they then have to play City a week later, and a loss to Pellegrini’s side could land them outside of the top four, it’s not a stretch to say that the next few weeks are absolutely vital for Arsenal.
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