Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bayern Munich 0 Arsenal 2; agg 3-3: match report

Close but no cigar: Olivier Giroud scored after just three minutes but Bayern scraped through in the end

Arsenal went out of Europe with their heads held high. They fought hard against the inevitable, against the damage inflicted on them in the first leg. They scored early through Oliver Giroud and late through Laurent Koscielny but it was not enough.

Arsenal now need to take this sort of intelligent, committed display into their attempt to regain a Champions League place.

So the Premier League have no representatives in the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 1996. Football’s cyclical and the English will come again, but they need to invest and concentrate better. At least, Arsenal went down fighting for the shirt.

So often derided this season, Arsenal’s defence excelled. Lukasz Fabianski was making his first start since facing Sunderland in the FA Cup on Feb 18 2012 and keeping his first clean sheet since playing against Manchester City in January 2011. He made some fine saves, notably from Arjen Robben.

All along the defensive watchtower could be found strong sentries.
At right back, Carl Jenkinson dispossessed Robben almost nonchalantly at one point. The centre-halves, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, were strong and always well-positioned. At left back, Kieran Gibbs showed what a good player he can be.

Wenger had hoped his team would be transformed into a “different animal”, a more assertive beast against Bayern. He believed in his players. He had picked a stronger team than anticipated with both Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla starting. Criticised from every quarter, Arsenal’s players started superbly, shedding any inhibitions, driving at Bayern’s defence, taking the lead after three minutes.

Bayern were missing the suspended Bastian Schweinsteiger in front of the back-four. His replacement, Luiz Gustavo, attempted to close down Arsenal as they flooded forward, Aaron Ramsey playing the ball from left to right to Tomas Rosicky, who exploited David Alaba’s slip to send Walcott into space.

The England winger drove the ball across through Dante’s legs. Giroud nipped in ahead of Daniel van Buyten to slam the ball high into the roof of the net from three yards.
It was the Frenchman’s first goal in 497 minutes, dating back to Liverpool on Jan 30. It had Arsenal fans dreaming of the great escape. They still required two more goals.

Many of the Arsenal supporters up in the gods of the Allianz had spent the afternoon in the beer halls off Marienplatz, singing their song about Giroud, and they sang it with a vengeance again.
At least their team were showing some fight, some belief, certainly more defensive organisation. Mikel Arteta and Ramsey anchored, shielding Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. Cazorla brought some stealth to the left while Walcott ran at Alaba.

The defence seemed more resolute, and needed to be as Bayern began pressing. The Bundesliga leaders were still only in second gear; it was if they felt the tie was over.
Slowly, Philipp Lahm started moving down the right, lifting in crosses. Gustavo shot over. So did Javi Martinez, following a lengthy build-up involving Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos and Arjen Robben. Then Robben and Lahm linked, creating a shooting chance for Kroos that Lukasz Fabianski held.

Bayern continued to attack. Arsenal continued to protect their goal well. When Robben accelerated to the edge of the visitors’ box, Carl Jenkinson did brilliantly to keep pace and then steer the ball away from the former Chelsea winger.

Jenkinson mocked Müller’s attempt to close him down by calmly working the ball down the right. When Bayern did break through Arsenal’s defence, Müller’s shot tore into the side-netting.
Arsenal stayed composed, stayed in search of a second. Walcott angled the ball towards the far-post just in front of the stretching Giroud.

As well as the Frenchman’s early goal, Arsenal’s display seemed to have silenced the Munich crowd. The Allianz Arena — or Fussball Arena Munchen in Uefa’s corporate-sensitive world — has rarely been this quiet. The main sounds were the chants emanating from the Arsenal fans, extolling the virtues of Santi Cazorla, Giroud and Mertesacker.

Bayern were as subdued as their support. They lacked the energy that Schweinsteiger can inject in performances. Franck Ribery’s injury deprived them of some zest out wide.
Arsenal still needed to defend stoutly. Kieran Gibbs headed clear a Kroos free kick. Giroud cleared an inswinging Robben corner.
The second half petered out, scarred by stoppages. Giroud needed attention after being caught by Van Buyten. Then Gibbs slid in on Robben, winning the ball, and was frustrated to be booked by Pavel Kralovec.
Arsenal strived hard. Oxlade-Chamberlain made a difference, running at Bayern. After 85 minutes, Cazorla curled over a corner and there was Koscielny heading in and then speeding into the net to retrieve the ball. The Germans seemed totally unwilling to release it, requiring Kralovec’s intervention.

But after three minutes of injury time, the hopes of Arsenal and the Premier League disappeared with the final peep of Kralovec’s whistle.

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