By Greg Stobart
Arsenal’s 10 men were battered, bruised and staggering towards the end, holding on with everything they had and desperate to hear the sound of the final whistle.
But then Thomas Muller stooped to deliver the late knockout blow that will surely end Arsenal’s Champions League campaign for another year.
Heading to the German and European champions with a one-goal deficit, the Gunners might have fancied their slim chances. After all, they won 2-0 in Munich when the sides met at the same stage last year.
Arsene Wenger, though, would be better off leaving some of his big players and treating the second leg as an opportunity to rotate his squad and rotate some weary legs. Bayern may have rather underestimated Arsenal a year ago, but they will not make the same mistake twice.
The Germans taught Arsenal a lesson on Wednesday night, but it is hardly news that the Gunners are not ready to go toe-to-toe with the best in Europe. When was the last time they did?
|VIEW FROM THE EMIRATES
|By Greg Stobart
What a draining evening for Arsenal that ends with Arsene Wenger’s side on the verge of elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Bayern Munich for the second year in a row.
The two key incidents of the match are obvious. Firstly, Mesut Ozil’s penalty was absolutely woeful when he had the chance to reward Arsenal’s early dominance.
The Gunners had the European champions rattled, and the game was fairly even until the home team were reduced to 10 men when goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was sentcoff for bringing down Arjen Robben.
Bayern missed the penalty, but went on to totally dominate possession and territory, with Arsenal having just 12 per cent of the ball in the secondchalf as they were worn into the ground by the visitors’ passing.
Toni Kroos was the star of the show and swept a wonderful opener into the top corner before substitute Thomas Muller finally broke down Arsenal’s stubborn resistance late on.
The atmosphere at the Emirates Stadium was superb throughout and the Gunners won 2-0 in Munich last year - but in reality it’s now time for Wenger to concentrate on the league and FA Cup.
The second leg against Bayern comes three days after they host Everton in the quarter-final of the FA Cup. Almost all Arsenal supporters would now want Wenger to prioritise ensuring a trip to Wembley for the semi-finals.
Wenger needs to lift his player and get them to prove they are no specialists in failure. It feels like this is the make or break moment for the Gunners’ season.
There were plenty of positives to take from the Bayern game.
For a start, they worked their socks off, did not crumble and managed to keep the scoreline reasonable with 10 men when at one stage it felt like Bayern would plunder four or five.
Had it not been for the red card, who knows what might have happened. Arsenal started the game the better side and were excellent for the first half-an-hour, snapping into tackles and turning the Bayern defence.
“In the first 10 to 15 minutes, Arsenal played incredibly,” was Pep Guardiola’s assessment. “We were lucky the best goalkeeper in the world showed his qualities.”
Manuel Neuer, the Bayern goalkeeper, kept out a Yaya Sanogo effort - the French striker justified his inclusion with an impressive performance - before saving Mesut Ozil’s woeful penalty.
Ozil’s display almost embodied Wenger’s fears, with the Frenchman admitting his concerns about the German playmaker’s confidence after his terrible spot-kick and generally poor showing.
The club record signing’s miss from the spot was the key moment of the game, along with the red card shown to Wojciech Szczesny after he brought down Arjen Robben in the penalty area.
David Alaba missed from the spot for the visitors, but Bayern dominated in the second half, taking the lead through a wonderful strike from Toni Kroos before Muller sealed the win.
Arsenal were barely able to get in the Bayern half after the restart and in the end the pressure told.
There is no shame in losing to Bayern having played for more than 50 minutes with 10 men. When it was 11 against 11, the Gunners held their own.
They are second in the Premier League, one point behind Chelsea and their next two league matches are against Sunderland and Stoke, offering the perfect opportunity to bounce back.
The fear with Arsenal is always about a perceived mental weakness, but even in defeat last season they used elimination at the hands of Bayern to energise their season and build a charge for a top-four finish.
Wenger needs to get the same reaction again.
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