A gallant effort but too little too late once again for Arsenal

While their inspired performance allowed them to bow out of the Champions League with grace, Arsenal have got to give themselves a chance to win more than just their pride back.
 Brendon Netto
 Comment | Europe
Follow on

As Bayern Munich and Arsenal walked out at the majestic Allianz Arena on another glittering European night in Munich, the Bavarians were destined to sail through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League while the Gunners had their white flags ready in hand, or so it would seem. If there was a script, Arsenal had no intention of playing along but sadly, despite their heroic efforts that saw a twist in the plot, the predetermined ending of this particular story remained unchanged as Bayern progressed to the next round by the skin of their teeth.

Within three minutes of kick-off, Olivier Giroud thumped in Theo Walcott’s cross from close range to give Arsenal the lead and a glimmer of hope to go along with it. The home support was stunned into silence but what’s more worrying from Bayern’s point of view is that there was very little in that first half to help their fans find their voices again.

Hope restored early on

The rest of the opening period meandered on with the hosts playing at an uncharacteristically slow tempo that Arsenal were all too comfortable with. Perhaps Bayern missed their midfield general, Bastian Schweinsteiger who has the ability to take hold of games and dictate their play but then again, the visitors were made to cope without the services of the equally influential Jack Wilshere.

With Bayern still unable to score in the second half, Laurent Koscielny headed in with five minutes of normal time remaining to give Arsenal an unlikely life-line and guarantee a few nerve-racking moments for the German outfit.

However, it proved to be too late for the London based club as the hosts were able to hold out in uninspiring fashion to go through on the away goals rule. Ultimately, it was déjà vu for Arsenal who came ever so close to completing a remarkable comeback last season as well.

Déjà vu? They nearly pulled it off against Milan as well

Following a disappointing 4-0 thumping away to AC Milan last year, they nearly turned things around in the return leg when they plundered three goals before half time. On that occasion as well, they were unable to finish the job as the Italian club shut them out in the second period to progress 4-3 on aggregate.

Like last year, the players have been lauded for their bravado and fight. They are allowed to exit the tournament with their heads held high having earned the respect of their fans, peers and critics alike. However, just like a game is not won at half time, these European fixtures aren’t won over a single leg and Arsenal’s shoddy display in their home game has cost them dearly.

Arsene Wenger and his troops have every right to feel proud of their performance in Munich and nobody can blame them for it but if they harbour true ambition, they’ll focus more on the way they got themselves in what proved to be an irretrievable position in the first place.  It’s all well and good to say, “Well, we gave it a shot and came mighty close” but their attempts to recover the situation is not what’s in question here.

Their defending was erratic in the first leg and Bayern may even have scored more than the three goals they did. They were utterly dominated at home but somehow gave a much better account of themselves away. So why have they only showed up in the second leg where all is nearly lost for two seasons in a row?

Arsenal need more than moral victories

Perhaps it has to do with their inability to manage pressure and expectations. In the first legs between Bayern and Milan, they started on even ground with their opponents and had all to play for. That’s when they appeared to freeze in the headlights and were taken to the cleaners. Their defeats rendered the second legs mere formalities and there were no longer any expectations to live up to or pressure to contend with and that clearly worked in their favour.

Arsenal have always been able to show their best when freed of any pressure, if they could do so with that pressure then they’d be consistently winning trophies. In other words, when they’ve had nothing to lose, they’ve been able to compete and salvage their pride.

Take nothing away from the Gunners, it was a stunning win against arguably the strongest team in Europe on paper and it does bode well for the rest of their season and indeed for the future. However, let’s not be blinded by a fantastic performance that ultimately yielded nothing. The fact is, Arsenal have now officially gone eight years without silverware and are left to make a final dash to qualify for next season’s Champions League yet again. Sooner or later, something’s got to give. How much longer will these fleeting performances feed the appetite of a club that surely deserves more than just the occasional moral victory?


What do you make of Arsenal's win? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

How do you stay up with football when on the move? With http://m.goal.com –your best source for mobile coverage of the beautiful game.