Pride is the key word tonight. Wenger said he was proud of the team. Ramsey thought the players did themselves proud. It was probably one of the most, if not the most, spontaneous thoughts that occurred to many Gooners after the game including this blogger,
The bottom line is still that Bayern qualified and the Gunners didn’t. You could say this was too little too late and it wouldn’t be completely wrong. But there was something in the performance that justified the manager’s belief in his players. This was the first time a team stopped the Bavarians from scoring this season and only the second occasion a team has beaten them at home.
As I said in that tweet, at the very least it showed the difference between the sides was not as big as many had declared it to be. Nevertheless, there was a difference and I can’t say the Germans didn’t deserve to go through.
Before the first game I wrote,
Based on recent form, according to the broader perception in the press and among fans, and on paper in terms of squad strengths, Bayern are overwhelming favourites to progress to the next round of the Champions League at the expense of Arsenal. I do, however, feel that this tie over two legs can be much closer than many expect it to be. But for that to be the case a simple yet vital question has to be answered in the positive and that’s not easy –
Can the Arsenal defence (the entire unit not just the back five) be trusted to cover structural weaknesses and avoid unforced individual mistakes over 180 minutes (possibly more) of football?
The Munich part of the answer was a resounding ‘Yes’. Alas! it wasn’t enough. The mistakes in the first-leg were too expensive. Wenger knows this as well as any fan,
When you look at the game tonight you have many regrets from the first game. Qualifying is 180 minutes and in the first 90 we were not at our best. I believe that it was very feasible to knock out Bayern. We got that feeling when we watched the first game again. We had a plan that we respected tonight, it went for us on some occasions but at least we have shown that we have the quality to be there.
The game itself was a very cagey affair. I’d mentioned the point about Bayern being cautious and respecting the Gunners in the preview. An early goal made them all the more wary.
And what a goal it was. Cazorla dropping deep and a tad central to receive the ball. Ramsey making a clever vertical run that was found by the Spaniard. The Welshman’s head-up square pass for Rosicky and Little Mozart’s deft touch for Walcott were all immensely enjoyable. Theo’s cross went through Dante’s legs and Giroud smashed it home from close range.
It was the kind of goal that had an air or preparedness about it. On the other hand, one got a feeling the hosts were caught unawares in that early period. As the game went on they managed their shape really well and prevented such moves from being created on a consistent basis.
The rest of the first half was a largely dull affair with Heynckes’ side dominating possession but finding it hard to break down an Arsenal defence that was consistently dropping deep and crowding out the central areas. Bayern often created overlaps on the flanks, particularly their right, and had men in good positions to deliver a telling cross, but Arsenal got enough bodies in the right areas to prevent open shots at goal. The hosts were largely limited to hopeful and/or rushed shots from the edge of or outside the box.
Their tentativeness also played it’s part as it countered the usually clinical nature of their finishing. One could argue that if they didn’t have the mental dilemma caused by the luxury of such a big first-leg lead and the pressure of an early Arsenal goal, they’d have done better with the chances they’d created. A team does not get into the position Bayern are in the Bundesliga or the Champions League without knowing how to score.
In that regard, while it can be argued that Arsenal’s defence worked, it also felt that the Gunners got a fair amount of luck. Again it was something Wenger touched upon, “… it went for us on some occasions.”
The Frenchman also talked about pressing the hosts high up the pitch.
We played very high up, we tried to block them and [make them] play through our lines.
Certainly, Arsenal’s attempts to press up the pitch were noticeable throughout the game. It’s tough to say it was a well-executed plan as Bayern often played past it with ease, but there were enough occasions when the Germans were forced into hoofing the ball forward to say that it did put them off their rhythm.
Pressing up the pitch as a cohesive unit has not worked for Wenger’s side. I first noticed this in the away win at Liverpool and have subsequently observed and discussed it in many games. This time it was a little better but I still don’t see it anywhere near the level required for consistent performances at the highest level.
The second-half was more open and both sides created better chances. But for Robben’s selfishness or the general tentativeness of their play, Bayern could have troubled Fabianski more than they did. Heyneckes will be disappointed his side didn’t score in the second period.
In attack, the Gunners scored with their only two shots on target. Admittedly, Fabianski was the busier keeper. Neuer hardly had anything to do except picking the ball out of his net – or sleeping over it – and kicking it long on occasion.
It reminded me of some games where relatively smaller teams have frustrated the Gunners and nicked a point or three on the break. In such cases Wenger usually talks about the difference in chances created and the fact that the opponents scored with their only shots on target. Wonder why no one put this question to him in the press conference, would have loved to hear his response/spin.
I thought Arsenal’s passing was too rushed and sloppy. Too many transitions and general build-ups broke down because of hurried and/or misplaced passes that shouldn’t be going awry. Pressure and lack of confidence might have been a factor. It could also be that Arsenal were trying to play it forward really quickly and didn’t get their understanding right. Whatever the reason, there can be no denying the fact that the number and quality of chances created were not enough to deserve progression.
Set-piece delivery was disappointing, more so considering the nervy nature of the hosts’ defence. That corner showed what havoc better delivery from other free-kicks could have caused.
Arsenal’s wing play wasn’t too good either. Bayern’s ability to create space and find a free man in the wider areas was patently superior. They were also better at closing that space down when defending. There are many tactical difference between the two sides that won’t go away simply because of this result. Those differences manifest themselves in the form of their respective performances over longer periods of time and it’s obvious the Germans have done much better in the recent past.
Yes, there was that chance for Gervinho. And Giroud could have done better in moments that had the potential to be decisive on more than one occasion. On another day the Gunners might have found the third goal. But Bayern fans will be quick to remind us that on another day the Bavarians would have buried one or more of their own chances too!
I’d ended the preview to this match with the following words,
Arsenal are better than the side that lost 1-3 at home against a brilliant Bavarian unit. The key questions are – Do they themselves believe that to be true? And can discover that completely different animal?
The Gunners have answered these questions in the affirmative, now it’s time to build on this form for the rest of the season.
Fabianski: Made a number of decent saves but none that seemed otherworldly, should thank his teammates for protecting him well. Decision making was generally good as was his catching/handling of the ball and positioning between the sticks. An odd occasion when Muller’s powerful drive squirmed under his arms comes to mind, but other than that it was a fairly convincing display, particularly from a man who’s been out for so long. Well done Luke.
Jenkinson: One of his better games without a doubt. Bayern didn’t overload his flank as often but the youngster did well in his individual battles. Defensive positioning was good, as was his decision making. Some of his covering work was also commendable, like the time he darted across to put pressure on Robben who was clean through. Even in attack there were a few moments when the full-back impressed with his energy, determination, and choices, although not as consistently as he did at the back.
Mertesacker: Had a good game in and around the box. Sensed and dealt with danger on a number of occasions. Passing was efficient but largely very safe. His presence did force the back line to drop back rather quickly, which made it hard to sustain pressure higher up the pitch. The time Robben got in behind, for instance, showed his weakness as he was nowhere near a covering position once Koscielny was sucked into a duel with Muller.
Koscielny: Scored a good goal. Another one who had a decent defensive game in and around the penalty box. Did make a couple of mistakes slightly higher up the pitch that could have been costly.
Gibbs: Much more conservative than he normally is. Often ended up defending against two players or more as he lacked support, particularly from Cazorla in the first half. Did enough with his speed and positioning to slow down certain moves. Overall a decent effort despite many of Bayern’s chances coming from his flank.
Arsenal tend to concede the wings and crowd the centre. It’s not something new. In this game they did it fairly effectively as the central defenders dropped deep together and the defensive line was consistent. They also got decent support from the midfielders, at least in terms of having the bodies in the right places. Overall a respectable defensive effort but not the kind on which major challenges can be built.
Arteta: Was disappointed with some of his fouls, particularly late in the game when his experience should have shown through. Wasn’t able to bring the ball out from defence under pressure and passing wasn’t at the level we normally see in the Premier League as the hosts were clever and persistent while pressing him. Decent supporting role in front of the back four.
Rosicky: Wasn’t really able to bring the forwards into play as often as one would have hoped. Bayern didn’t give him much space and he wasn’t able to drop into holes to influence the play in an attacking sense. Also lost the ball quite often for an experienced player. Did have a few good moments when he was able to turn past opponents or almost picked incisive passes but those were few and far between.
Ramsey: There were some very visible sloppy passes from the Welshman that had me cursing at the screen. But it was really a phenomenal effort from Ramsey. Saw a lot of the ball as he made himself available all over the pitch. According to UEFA he covered 10280 metres in his time on the pitch, which when extrapolated to 94 minutes comes to 13421, a staggering number. Luis Gustavo was next best with 12059 over the whole game followed by Arteta with 11450 and Martinez clocking 11001. This effort meant that he was able to help the defence on a consistent basis and he also tried his best in to aid the attack, including a vital contribution in the build-up to the first goal. He still has a long way to go and much to learn in this role but the raw material and the heart is definitely there.
Cazorla: Played a part in the first goal and was influential in some attacking moves, particularly towards the end. But he wasn’t able to express his attacking abilities as well as most fans know he can and wanted to see. Useful assist from the corner but disappointing set-piece delivery otherwise. Didn’t really offer sufficient defensive cover to Gibbs.
The midfield struggled for large patches of the game when Bayern pressed them intensely and denied any sort of space to turn or run into. If they got past one player there was always a covering teammate ready with a fresh defensive challenge. The midfield players also rushed their game a bit and couldn’t quite show the composure we see in many Premier League games. This minimized the attacking threat that Arsenal could pose. Extra effort to help the defence made up for it in the context of this game.
Walcott: Decent assist for the first goal but a largely disappointing anonymous game. His technical weaknesses and inability to adapt to clever positional defending meant that he saw very little of the ball and lost it quite often. Nevertheless, offered more than he did when playing down the middle in the reverse fixture, which just seems like a tactical blunder in hindsight.
Giroud: Had a good goal to show for his efforts but another one who got more wrong than he did right. Work rate is there but his choices, anticipation, and execution are below par. As I’ve said before though, he’s more like a youngster with just one big season in a smaller league to show for experience rather than a proven striker. Another one who has the raw material and the heart. Has to show he can learn quickly.
The technical weaknesses of the forwards and some of their choices on and off the ball broke down a number of attacks in promising positions. But they can improve if they keep working, already there is more to their game than we’ve seen in the past.
Subs: Gervinho had a couple of lively moments and almost scored. Oxlade-Chamberlain won the corner that resulted in the second goal and, in general, had more to offer in the tighter spaces on the right than Walcott did.
Wenger: Some bold decisions like leaving Vermaelen and Szczesny out of the line-up seemed well-justified. Could probably have brought Walcott off earlier but that’s the kind of decision that would get criticism either way. Bringing Cazorla into a central area also seemed like a missed trick. On the whole a strong response to the critics but one game does not a season make.