Another nightmare evening in the Champions League for English football brought with it another controversial red card decision, as Arsenal stopper, Wojciech Szczesny, saw red for a challenge on Arjen Robben in the closing stages of the first half while Bayern scalped a 2-0 victory at the Emirates.
The resultant spot-kick, taken by David Alaba, was missed but it did not stop the reigning champions taking advantage of their extra man, scoring two in the second half to heap pressure on Arsene Wenger’s side going into the second leg next month.
Toni Kroos capped a classy performance with a superb long range effort that had substitute keeper, Lukasz Fabianski, sprawling back into his own goal net to try and keep it out, before Thomas Muller scored a late second for Bayern, which left the Gunners with a mountain to climb, much like last year, to make it into the quarter finals of the Champions League.
The hosts had started promisingly and their early pressure forced their own chance from the spot just eight minutes into the match, as Ozil earned a penalty after his trickery deceived compatriot, Jerome Boateng, into making a clumsy challenge. The German spurned the chance however, after a nervy two-spot run up led to a tame down-the-middle effort, which was saved by Manuel Neuer.
Arsenal’s record signing looked visibly deflated for the remaining eighty plus minutes, but it did not stop Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from turning in commendable performances for the Gunners, who were coping well with Munich’s pressure as the game’s tide began to turn, until Kroos picked out Robben with a delightfully weighted pass.
Robben took the ball down with ease and with Szczesny already away from his goal-line, the outcome was almost inevitable. A penalty kick ensued and Arsenal’s number one was given his marching orders, which saw playmaker Santi Cazorla make way for reserve stopper Fabianski. The Polish keeper then insisted on having a few touches of the ball before the penalty could be taken, which was arguably a major force in Alaba’s miss after the Austrian was forced to wait a full two minutes before he could take the kick.
People who listened to the live football commentary know that the writing was on the wall for Arsene Wenger at this point and the emphasis of the game noticeably changed, with it becoming a challenge of damage limitation for the Gunners rather than a chance to scrape a vital goal or two in front of their own fans. They sat back and allowed the pressure, but when you do that against the best sides in the world you will be punished – and punished they were.
No-one was to blame for the goal that opened the floodgates, that much is certain, as Toni Kroos unleashed an unstoppable effort that left anyone and everyone in the Arsenal side lost for words. The goal was one to be proud of and marked the second game at the Emirates that Kroos has got his name on the score-sheet.
Even then the Gunners held firm, resisting the pressure as Bayern attempted to kill the game off. With Phillip Lahm moved from defence to midfield by Pep Guardiola at half time, the Germans had more men to exert in the final third but even with Arjen Robben continuing to be a menace for the Gunners’ defence, they looked to be in the tie with ten minutes to play, just a goal down and buoyed by the fact they defeated Bayern 2-0 last year away from home.
However, just as complacency struck Manchester City in the dying minutes of their defeat to Barcelona, Arsenal failed in holding the reigning champions when Thomas Muller headed home a Phillip Lahm cross from the right hand side. Both the cross and the header were exerted with clinical execution and left Arsenal with a mountain to climb in Munich next month.
Wenger later bemoaned the red card decision that will see Szczesny miss the second leg in March and the Gunners will now need a performance at least of a calibre of last years, which saw the Gunners tie the game up at 3-3 on aggregate before Bayern progressed due to away goals. Two goals are again needed now to bring Arsenal back into the tie, but fans who bet on football know that won’t be easy in Bayern’s backyard, where they have remained undefeated since December.