Friday, February 21, 2014

Arsenal 0 Bayern Munich 2 (Last 16 of Champions League)

Like other Gooners, we found ourselves with mixed feelings at the final whistle. It was a shame that we conceded a late goal. As Flamini admitted after the match, we would have been happy to take a 1-0 defeat to Munich. However, we were proud of our team who put up a brave fight against the reigning champions as well as all the adversities.

Arsene Wenger made five changes from the side that started in a 2-1 defeat of Liverpool in Sunday's FA Cup 5th round tie. The number of changes was fewer than we expected. Szczesny came in for Fabianski, while Gibbs and Sagna replaced Monreal and Jenkinson, respectively, at the full-back. These changes were fully expected. Wilshere started next to Flamini in central midfield as Arteta was suspended for this tie after he was sent off in the last game of the group stage. The Ox got the nod again ahead of fully rested Rosicky. This came somewhat as a surprise, but what raised an eyebrow really was the inclusion of Yaya Sanogo. The young French striker impressed in the victory over Liverpool, but the selection was largely regarded as a means to give Giroud a breather. In fact, after the Liverpool match, we joked that we would never see the 21-year-old again, having known that Wenger always sticks with the same group of players week in week out. It was a surprise that he was given a start for the second time in 4 days, considering the fact that he had just come back from a 6-month lay-off and had only played 60 minutes in a U-21's match prior to Sunday's cup tie. In the post-match press conference, Wenger denied that he left out Giroud as a punishment for off-the-pitch incident (the breach of curfew), but it is interesting to see if the French striker will feature against Sunderland. Santi Cazorla started in place of Lukas Podolski.

Arsenal started the game very well, forcing a quality Bayern side on the back foot. Considering that we were 2-0 down within 20 minutes of the first leg at the Emirates last season, this was an encouraging improvement. In the 19th minute, the Gunners had a chance to take a lead, but Özil's tame penalty was well saved by Neuer. This is the second time Özil missed a penalty for us. In a 2-0 victory over Marseille at the Emirates in the group stage of the Champions League back in November, fortunately, that miss didn't count. Wenger accepted that the nonchalant way of penalty taking was the German wizard's style and the Frenchman even joked about a German missing a penalty. This time he admitted that he "preferred people that properly hit the ball". What baffled us was that Wenger was aware that Özil was clearly affected by the penalty miss. The Frenchman admitted that he saw the German playmaker was still shaking his head 10 minutes later. Nevertheless, he decided to sacrifice Santi when he was forced to make a change in the wake of Szczeny's sending off.

Wenger admitted that Szczesny misjudged the situation. Perhaps the Pole mistimed his challenge, but we think that he should have stood big and allowed Robben to come at him in the first place. We are not not complaining the sending-off, but it is a valid argument whether rules should be changed so that only a penalty and a yellow card should be given when a clear goal-scoring chance has been denied in the box. It's not because Arsenal were hard done by the rule in this game, but we always thought that a penalty with a yellow card should be sufficient to compensate for a denied goal-scoring chance. Having a player sent off is too much unless the foul has been committed outside the box, in which case the opposition would not be compensated for the loss of a goal-scoring chance. In fact, we have already seen a few referees opt for just a penalty and yellow card in the Premier League this season.

Combined with the loss of Gibbs to injury in the 31st minutes, the sending-off proved to be just one too many difficulty to overcome. From this point, there was little we could do but  defend. Prior to the match, if we had been offered a 0-0 draw, we would have taken it, but at this point of the game, going into the second leg with a 0-0 draw looked our dream scenario.

In the 54th minute, Bayern Munich took a lead through Kroos' sublime strike. There was nothing we could do about it. After that, we just had to dig even deeper and keep the goal margin minimal. The team did very well, putting in a resolute defensive performance. Arsene Wenger did not make a change until the 74th minute. He explained after the match that with two substitutions already made at early stages, he could not even bring on fresh pairs of legs in case there was another injury. His hesitation is understandable if you imagine what would have happened, had we gone down to nine men. That said, once again his substitution looked strange to us. The Ox was replaced by Rosicky, while Özil stayed on.

Thomas Muller's late goal was heartbreaking for us, especially when our boys were battling so hard to keep it at 1-0. Overall, we think that the team played well and they can only take heart from their performance. They were brilliant in the first 30 minutes against, officially, the best team in the world. And when everything went against them, they fought really hard.

One of the positives from this game was the high tempo and intensity of Arsenal's attack in the first 30 minutes, which was built on from their performance against Liverpool on Sunday. The same two players, the Ox and Sanogo, stood out in the attacking moves. Our game had been very slow and predictable before the Liverpool game, but in the last two games, it changed. Our attack is now based on quick, counter-attacking moves. Hopefully we can keep the tempo.

Another positive was the team's spirit. It was always going to be a tough game and there was no shame in losing 2-0 to the reigning champions with 10 men. An Arsenal side in past would have spectacularly capitulated when a penalty miss, an injury, and a sending-off all happened at the early stages of a game.

With a 2-goal deficit, we have a mountainous task to qualify, but if we can repeat last season's feat in Munich, we still have a chance to go through after extra time. But before that, let's focus on the Premier League this weekend. After all, the league and the FA Cup are more realistic targets for us.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 6
Made a superb save to stop Kroos' effort in the 3rd minute, but made a wrong decision and got sent off.

Sagna: 7
Did OK.

Mertesacker: 7
Captain on the night showed his commitment.

Koscielny: 8
Excellent defensive display, also showed his desire to win, going forward. Had 1 shot on target, made 5 tackles, 2 of which were last-man tackles, with 10 clearances.

Gibbs: 7
Bayern's attack was concentrated on the left frank and he coped well until he sustained an injury. Replaced in the 31st minute. Contrary to what it looked like (we all thought it was a hamstring injury), it was a buttock injury, according to Wenger's injury updates. He is set to miss the Sunderland game, but hopefully he will not be sidelined too long.

Flamini: 7
Committed performance. Made a crucial block.

Wilshere: 7
Showed real desire to go forward, but he does not do enough defensively. Made no tackles nor interceptions, when even Özil, who has been accused of his lack of defensive contribution, made 3 interceptions and 2 clearances.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Lively. Always a threat.

Özil: 6
Missed a penalty, which could have changed the game totally.

Cazorla: 6
Had 2 shots, one of which was straight at the keeper. Taken off in the 31st minute in exchange of Fabianski. 

Sanogo: 7
Another encouraging performance. We liked him when he charged at the keeper. Unfortunately
had nothing to feed off in the second half.


Monreal: 6
31st-minute substitute for Gibbs. He was at fault for the penalty conceded. He should have spotted Robben's run.

Fabianski: 7
Came on for Cazorla in the 38th minute, following the sending off of Szczesny. Another reassuring performance from the second-choice keeper. He could do nothing about Kroos' opener. 

Rosicky: 6
Little impact.

No comments:

Post a Comment