Bayern Munich 0- 2 Arsenal: Injuries and suspensions cause massive upset, Proud Gunners bow out
Arsene Wenger’s team bowed out of the Champions’ League in the Round of 16, despite a huge victory at the Allianz Arena in Munich. This leaves no English club in the quarter-final stages of the CL.
Wenger’s men needed a minimum of 3 away goals after they lost their home leg 3-1 to the Bavarians. But after a game that lacked much of the built up lustre, the Gunners could only bag 2 goals for themselves without allowing the appalling Bavarians to score.
Injury worries practically killed this tie for Arsenal. Wenger lost Jack Wilshere and Lukas Podolski in the build up to the game, and then he further rested first choice keeper Szczesny. Tomas Rosicky came in for Podolski and Ramsey occupied Wilshere’s place.
Heyenkes had his own fitness woes as Ribery and Schweinsteiger were ruled out. Luis Gustavo came in for Schweinie, with Robben occupying Ribery’s spot.
Arsenal’s lopsided attack, Theo the target man.
Wenger was reported to be choosing to rest the likes of Walcott and Cazorla, but those these 2 started in wide positions for Arsenal. With Ramsey and Arteta choosing to sit very deep in midfield, Thomas Rosicky was given the job to link up with the attack. The Czech international has lacked playing time this season, and this clearly showed in his game.
Rosicky’s high up positioning, often in front of the towering Giroud, left him fighting for the 2nd ball off Giroud’s flick on. But most of the time, he was not able to impose his physicality against the likes of Martinez or Gustavo. Despite this fact, it was Rosicky’s pass to Walcott that set up Arsenal’s first goal within 5 minutes of the 1st half. Walcott found himself in space due to Alaba’s slip-up, and was able to put in an accurate low cross for Giroud to pound in.
This goal route seemed the most comfortable for Arsenal, and once Theo tasted blood against Alaba, he kept demanding the ball on the right flank. So whenever the pair of Ramsey or Rosicky had the ball, they kept feeding Walcott or Jenkinson. Unfortunately for the Gunners, the midfield pair had a horrendous day in terms of passing.
Bayern’s midfield lacks a runner initially, Martinez then stands up
Bayern started the game on an indecisive note, and many pre-game suggestions that the Bavarians might be uncomfortable defending 3 away goals seemed to be true within the first 5 minutes. Even the crowd support seemed to be lacking at the Allianz Arena, as the 3000 strong travelling away support was making all the noise.
Heyenkes started with Tony Kroos playing in a role very similar to Rosicky at the other end. Kroos pressed up high against Arteta, with Mandzukic also falling deep to sit on the Spaniard. But the initial problem was with the gap between the duo of Martinez – Gustavo and Kroos ahead. With Schweinie suspended, Bayern missed a willing runner from the midfield to prosper in the gaps left between both the double pivots. For Arsenal, however, Ramsey was able to carry out this role successfully, as the Welshman’s work rate in the first half was really impressive.
After Arsenal’s first goal, Bayern seemed to recover some of their lost composure. Martinez and Gustavo took turns at sitting back and attacking. Mostly when Bayern were on the ball, it was Gustavo who sat deep on Giroud, with Martinez shuttling forward to occupy Ramsey. Whereas on the rare occasions that Arsenal had the ball, Martinez was seen falling deep to out-muscle Rosicky while Gustavo pressed the runner from Arsenal’s midfield.
But the mere presence of 2 deep lying players gave Bayern’s front 4 much more freedom in attack. Robben was started on the left against Jenkinson, and the Dutchman was rarely able to get past the young fullback.
His cutting-in approach often saw him end up running at Arteta. This overcrowded the section in front of Arsenal’s defence, as Kroos and Mandzukic already were positioned here. This made Arteta fall back much deeper off the ball, and thus gave Bayern chances to take shots from outside the box. It is safe to say that none of the Bavarians had their shooting boots on, as they didn’t trouble Fabianski even once from afar.
Fullbacks decisive again, Lahm keeps Cazorla busy
The difference between the 2 teams in the first leg was often the fullbacks. Again today, much of the game was decided based on the runs of Philip Lahm and Alaba. Initially, Muller was playing in the wing in front of Lahm and the German striker rarely left his wide right position. He had prospered in such a position against Vermaelen at the Emirates, but today he was well stopped by Arsenal’s regular left back, Kieran Gibbs.
Muller’s wide positioning rarely gave Lahm any space to overlap on the flank, and thus the Bayern captain was often seen cutting to the centre while on attack.
Though Lahm might not have been as influential as the first leg, he was successful in occupying Cazorla for most of the match. Wenger might have considered Cazorla a better tracker than Rosicky when he started him on this flank, but Cazorla’s entire attacking instincts and creativity was killed off while busy tracking Lahm. And unfortunately for Arsenal, the Spaniard was not too good at this job either. Lahm often ended up being shown to the centre by Cazorla, and then again, the same case of overcrowding the region in front of the box occurred.
Arsenal survived without conceding in the first half due to some last ditch tackling by the pair of Koscienly and Mertersacker. Fabianski’s performance just showed how right Wenger was in resting Szczesny.
Second half changes, Mandzukic and Giroud have contrasting styles
Neither manager changed much at the start of the second half. The only change for Bayern was that Robben was now permanently on his preferred right flank. Here he was against a bruised Gibbs, and though the Dutchman often got the better of Arsenal’s left back, his finishing left the entire crowd and bench exasperated.
Most of the second half was lost in a battle between Mandzukic and Arteta. All of Neuer’s long balls had Mandzukic jumping up against Mikel Arteta, and the Spaniard almost every time fouled the Croatian striker. Whenever Mandzukic was able to out-jump Arteta, his flick found Muller and Robben waiting to run at the defense.
This attacking by Mandzukic was the difference between the 2 teams. On the other end, Giroud was also given a similar role to out-jump Gustavo, and despite all his physicality, Giroud rarely affected the game via his jumps. Walcott and Rosicky were supposed to be the free attackers to latch on to these flicks, but this is where Bayern’s defense came in strongly. ‘Coolness personified’ Dante was at the end of most of Giroud’s attempted flicks, and rarely were the likes of Walcott troubled to gather.
Shifting Giroud to the right side of defense to work on the less agile Van Buyten would have been a better strategy by Wenger, as it would have utilized the space left by the tiny but marauding Lahm. But Giroud’s lack of interest on this side was again due to Cazorla’s deep positioning. Even in the 2nd half, Santi rarely affected the game as he was left occupied by Bayern’s attack on this flank.
Late substitutes make instant impact
If it was only Muller and Lahm in the first half, now Bayern over-crowded this flank by playing Robben just off Muller on the right. Now Mandzukic’s flicks had 2 players in a similar position. This often resulted in Robben finding an easier and direct run at goal, which the Dutchman fluffed again.
The crowd again had to wait till the 70th minute to see any changes. Wenger brought on Chamberlain for the lack-lustre Walcott, and Gervinho for Ramsey. This change saw Arsenal’s wing play increase manifold, and more importantly, allowed Cazorla to drift into his preferred role in attacking midfield. These substitutions had an immediate impact on the game as Gervinho started to stretch out Lahm on the left.
Arsenal fans would have been pleasantly surprised to see their big-foreheaded Ivorian influence the game, as he is often seen having a negative impact on results. Here, Gervinho was seen taking 2-3 good touches upfront, and then a twist-n-turn later, he almost doubled Arsenal’s lead. Similarly on the other flank, Chamberlain was doing what Theo failed to do. He took up the job of challenging Alaba on the wing, and while hugging the touchline all the time, ‘the Ox’ was again successful in stretching the play and winning corners. One such effort helped Arsenal score from the resulting corner routine.
Heynckes’ substitutions were more of a reaction to Wenger’s . Once Gervinho started affecting the game on the left flank, and Bayern showed no signs of scoring, Heynckes subbed off Kroos for the defense-minded Tymoschuk. This was done to immediately block Gervinho running at the yellow carded Lahm, and worked out most of the time.
The other change was to bring on Mario Gomez for the impressive Mandzukic. This change did not alter much ahead as Arsenal were ready to let Gomez and Muller roam into space in front of the defense. But crediting the Gunners’ defense, their brave high line was held strongly throughout the game.
Arsenal were unable to capitalize on the confusion in the Bavarian ranks in the last few minutes. This was mainly due to Arteta’s knack of giving away fouls all over the park, and also Bayern’s absolute refusal to take any of these free-kicks in time.
Overall, this might be one of Wenger’s greatest results in recent history, but ironically for the Frenchman, it does not suit him one bit. Though no one gave Arsenal a chance in this tie, their eventual exit from the competition has certainly left critics reeling about another season void of trophies.
Arsenal’s only supposed trophy can come via a top 4 finish, chances for which might just be boosted after such an away display. But again, injury worries come into picture here, as the pile of bruises keep increases in the Gunners’ dressing room.
As for Bayern, they might have more or less won the Bundesliga, but the Bavarians have their work cut out if they intend to do the same in the CL. With suspensions piling on after this game, Heynckes will have to find a way for his attack to click in the absence of a Schweinsteiger or a Martinez. A team that conceded just a handful of goals before this game has now conceded twice against an attack that is nowhere near its best.
Top of the match: Lucas Fabianski
Flop of the match: Santi Cazorla