Friday, November 6, 2015

Bayern Munich 5 Arsenal 1 (Champions League Group Stage)

Arsenal went into the game with renewed hopes of qualifying after an impressive 2-0 victory at the Emirates. Bayern Munich's recent goal-scoring form at home may have been frightening, but the north Londoners' recent results at Allianz Arena were encouraging enough with a 1-1 draw in March last year (the 2013/14 season) and a 2-0 win in the 2012/13 season. However, this night's damaging loss, combined with Olympiakos' victory over Zagreb which was secured by a 90th-minute winner, dealt a hefty blow to our ambition for qualification.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the side that started in a 3-0 defeat of Swansea on Saturday. Both of them were forced ones, where Gabriel came in for Laurant Koscielny, while Mathieu Debuchy replaced Hector Bellerin. The French centre-back travelled with the squad only to be found just hours before kick-off not fit enough to play due to a hip injury. The Spanish right-back was ruled out the day before, suffering a "small" groin injury. We were underwhelmed with the prospect of Debuchy deputising him in such a big game, but the ironic thing is that we felt exactly the same about Bellerin ahead of the opening game of our Champions League campaign last season against Dortmund when Debuchy was out with a long-term injury. Arsenal's injury list has now extended to 10 first-team players, including Koscielny (hopefully, this was just a precaution). The desperate situation saw Jeff Reine-Adelade added to the travelling squad, fresh from the U-17 international duty with France, along with Alex Iwobi on the bench.

First and foremost, it was a very poor defensive performance from the Gunners. They didn't put any pressure on the ball. Mertesacker reflected that they were not brave enough in their defending. The vice-captain and captain on the night was one of those who stood off Bayern players and let them play. In fact, one of the first-half goals took deflection on him, which beat Cech at near post. Even when we had won the ball, we gave it away too quickly.

The injury woe arguably played a big part in the thrashing. If we had Bellerin and Koscielny fit for this game, the result could have been different. At least, Bellerin would have shown his newly-found defensive resolution again.

Joel Campbell impressed in our victory at the Liberty Stadium, stepping up his game in the absence of the Ox and Aaron Ramsey, but he looked out of his depth against the European Giants. One may say that Wenger's faith in the Costa Rican backfired. Campbell was withdrawn in the 58th minute to give way to Kieran Gibbs, which prompted Sanchez's move to the right wing. There is an argument whether Wenger should have done the other way round. The shocking defensive display may be attributed to individual players' mistakes and under-performance, but if the manager had set up his side more defence-oriented and we had gone into the half time at 0-0 , we might still have had a chance. Conceding a goal so early was detrimental.

Wenger's tactical options were extremely limited due to injuries. What was effective in the home game against the Germans was the switch of strikers. The counter-attacking tactics worked well with the pace of Theo Walcott and when Olivier Giroud came on, Bayern defenders could not cope with changes in the style. When Giroud was taken off in the 84th minute after scoring a spectacular goal, we took it as Wenger's focus had already moved to Sunday's clash with Tottenham.

At Doolan's Bar, we had an outburst of criticism about Wenger's transfer policy during Bayern's first-half onslaught. Injury crises are annual affairs for us. Year after year, our title challenges have been hampered by injuries. We have to improve our squad depth. 

We wondered what could have happened if Mesut Özil's goal had stood. It would have at least boosted the team's morale. The referee was giving the goal, but the additional official ruled it out for handball. Replays on the TV seemed to us that the German playmaker's shoulder made a contact with the ball. The BBC match report thinks Arsenal had a legitimate cause to question the decision as Özil kept his arms by his side. On the other hand, the match report on site, which normally puts positive spins for obvious reasons, stated "Özil used his elbow to divert the ball past Manuel Neuer". We rest our case.

We take positives from our second-half performance in this game. We should have scored a few more goals, had we been as clinical as we were fortnight ago at the Emirates. The team did not let their heads drop, but kept looking for chances. We were totally beaten and outclassed on the night, but we know our best side can beat any team on our day, including Bayern Munich, which was proven two weeks ago.

Our chance of qualifying looks marginal now. We need to win both of our remaining matches, hoping that Bayern Munich will beat Olympiakos in the next game. Apparently, Mertesacker had already had a word with some of Bayern Munich players, who assured him that they would do everything they can do to win the next game. Reportedly, Pep Guardiola also assured Arsenal fans that Bayern would not settle for a stalemate, which will be enough for both sides to go through. By the look of their performance this night, we can trust them for defeating the Greek champions at home. Then, we still need to beat Olympiakos in Greece by a better scoreline than 2-3.

Before the famous win at the Emirates, qualifying for the knock-out stage was almost a lost cause for us. We thought that the exit from the Champions League might not be such a bad thing after all as we rarely progress beyond the round of Last 16. By being eliminated from the Champions League, we may be able to manage our Premier League and FA Cup schedules better with our small squad. The worst thing that could happen is finishing third in Group F and being demoted to the Europa League. It's difficult for us to envisage ourselves travelling miles away on Thursday nights and playing league games on Sundays or Monday nights.

We need to move on and focus on Sunday's north London derby. We are still joint top in the Premier League with Manchester City and this season could offer us the best chance to win the title in years with Chelsea already out of the frame.

In the post-match interview, Wenger revealed that we will be without Bellerin again for the home clash with Tottenham. Hopefully, Debuchy will finally deliver against the noisy neighbours. After all he is an experienced international player who played in the last World Cup. Also, keep fingers crossed that Koscielny will be fit to start. Mikel Arteta and David Ospina will join full training on Friday and could be in contention for the north London derby. After the international break, Ramsey and the Ox, then shortly afterwards, Theo Walcot could be back. It is a tough week and the north London derby could not come at worse time, but hopefully we have enough resources to keep pace with the title contenders. We believe in Arsenal's bouncebackability, expecting them to show the similar response to the one when they faced Man U at the Emirates after the disappointing loss to Olympiakos.

Players ratings

Cech: 7
With Bayern Munich registering 13 shots on target, it could have been even more emphatic scoreline, had it not been for him.

Debuchy: 5
Looked off the pace. He was culpable for one of the goals by losing his marker and letting him deliver a cross, but at least he made a Bellerin-esque last-man tackle when Robben had just got round Cech.

Mertesacker: 6
Responsible for the team's poor defensive display.

Gabriel: 5
He was guilty for Bayern's first goal by pushing up to try playing Lewandowski off-side. He was too slow, allowing the Poland international on side to get a free header. 

Monreal: 6
Struggled to contain Cowman. Slipped (or some claim that he tripped over his shoe lace) in the box when he was through on goal.

Coquelin: 6
Worked hard, but with no help from Cazorla or Özil, it was a hard task. His back pass that fell short nearly gave us a heart-attack. Delivered a fine cut-back for Cazorla in the second half, which the Spaniard spooned in the close range.

Cazorla: 6
Had a shot straight at Neur after going clean through. On another occasion, he got in a great position after a great team movement, but spurned the glorious chance. One of Bayern goals stemmed from him getting outmuscled and dispossessed. 

Campbell: 6
Disappointing performance. When he got chances to go into the final third at the beginning of the first half, he wasted them. Was withdrawn in the 58th minute.

Özil: 7
He kept his head up and always looked for a killer pass. Made more (51) passes than any other Arsenal players with a 94.1% accuracy when the team's average passing rate was 78%. It might not be his best performance, but he certainly didn't disappear.

Alexis: 6
Had 2 shots, none of which were on target. Provided an assist for Giroud's goal. He kept the ball too long only to be dispossessed. His attempts to dribble into Bayern defenders annoyed us.

Giroud: 7
Scored an exquisite goal with a scissor kick. Created 2 chances for his team-mates. 


Gibbs: 6
Replaced Campbell in the 58th minute. His introduction seemed to have given an impetus going forward.

Iwobi:  N/A
Replaced Giroud in the 84th minutes.

Chambers: N/A
Came on for Cazorla in the 87th minute.

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