Crikey, where to start? After a thoroughly tense FA Cup win against Liverpool, during which, deep into the second half, I am sure my anus collapsed in on itself through sheer anxiety, Arsenal had to combat arguably the best football team of the 21st century.
A Pep Guardiola-led Bayern Munich side who now threaten to eclipse the, er, Pep Guardiola-led Barcelona side whom had swept all before them three years earlier.
The German treble-winners came into London to be met with a red and white spectacle, a wall of passionate noise and an Arsenal side with their tails up after their back-to-the-walls last victory.
Arsene Wenger threw the first curveball, an effort worthy of the late Dizzy Dean. Why play your £12m French international striker when you can play your free transfer U21 French striker in the biggest game of his career? Did the ball curve? Yes it did. Yaya Sanogo put in another promising performance. Is Olivier Giroud exhausted, or is his head not in the right frame of mind after a weekend of salacious gossip?
Arsenal sensed blood. If this Bayern Munich side have a weak spot, it is their centre-backs. Dante and Javi Martinez are not bad defenders, but they aren’t Laurent Koscielny or Per Mertesacker. Phillip Lahm is an incomparable fullback come midfield anchor (the position where Javi Martinez excels for me), whilst David Alaba and Jerome Boateng are more than competent fullbacks. The protection Lahm offers the defence is vital against more dangerous opponents than the Bundesliga can offer at the moment.
To Arsene Wenger’s credit, Arsenal attacked. When Mesut Ozil won himself a penalty, he stepped up to take it himself against his boyhood teammate Manuel Neuer; who surely is the best ‘keeper in the world now.
I am convinced that while Thierry Henry was at Arsenal, the team (or he) had a motto not to take a penalty that you’ve won yourself. Well, Ozil took it himself. There are few things in life that I’ve ever considered more pointless than a Jamiroquai song, but Ozil’s short, nonchalant penalty run-ups are a close run thing. It was, to be fair, going well – Ozil had waited until Neuer had committed his dive to his left – for the first couple of strides, but Ozil putting his spot-kick in the same area was just asking for trouble. It duly arrived when Neuer’s right hand shot up to parry the effort away. A good save, but easier than it should’ve been. Quite why Ozil is on penalty duties after his last lame effort against Marseille, when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs and Santi Cazorla are all accomplished spot-kickers is a mystery. A costly mystery.
You all know what happened next…a Wojciech Szczesny red-card after a foul on Arjen Robben resulted in a Bayern penalty, which Alaba duly missed, and then away goal strikes from Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller (his goal coming after yet another woeful Arsenal attacking set-piece was punished with a counter-attack – what was Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity?!) put paid to Arsenal’s hopes of Champions League progression. Arsenal had four crunch fixtures this month; they lost two, drew one and won one. And March looks even harder.
Was Yaya Sanogo’s inclusion over the more experienced Olivier Giroud a mistake? Would Giroud have tucked away any of those chances?
Was Mesut Ozil taking a vital penalty a mistake? What would have happened if the resurgent Arsenal team of last night had gone 1-0 up?
Was Wojciech Szczesny’s foul worthy of a red card? How eerie was it that last night’s game followed the Manchester City vs. Barcelona game’s controversies almost blow by blow?
Will Robben face punishment for spitting on Bacary Sagna? A return leg against a Bayern Munich side who could be by then missing both Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben would give many Gooners faint hope of an unlikely reversal. As it stands, despite that last, oh-so-close valiant attempt in the Allianz Arena in 2012-13, Arsenal look likely to be heading out. A returning Aaron Ramsey could aid an unlikely cause…but the emphasis really is on ‘unlikely.’ You can bet Bayern Munich have learnt the lesson that was handed out to them by Arsenal last season. So if you are one who wear a shirt of this team, the best is that you post classified ads here to sell it.
What next for Arsenal? Well, a home win against Gus Poyet’s resurgent Sunderland side is a must, but it has the potential to be a real banana-skin fixture. Adam Johnson is on fire, with a late run for a World Cup place in his sights and who won’t be facing an injured again Kieran Gibbs, on-loan Liverpool flop striker Fabio Borini has re-discovered how to score again, and could be a real handful and in Liam Bridcutt, The Mackems have a quality defensive midfielder who will spend all game sat on whoever the Arsenal ‘#10’ will be, mopping up, moving the ball on and clattering ankles as he goes.
Many will hope that Dennis Bergkamp, who will be at The Emirates for his long awaited statue unveiling, will be signed up on a short-term deal to bolster a now impotent looking Arsenal attack (Giroud, by his own admission, even failed to score with that tabloid sell-out in the team’s hotel room)…
Arsenal then travel to Stoke City before the return leg in Munich. Will Kim Kallstrom – Arsenal’s injured injury cover – perhaps make an appearance? Will Mesut Ozil be rested and Serge Gnabry be unleashed? Will the recalled-from-Watford Hector Bellerin be drafted in to get some precious minutes?
The Gunners can take heart from their electric start on Wednesday. If that is recreated against Sunderland and Stoke City, then the pedestrian first half performances that have so infuriated the paying Gooners in The Emirates Stadium will be consigned to memories. Neither of those candy-cane sides will be able to sustain such an onslaught. The question is, do Arsenal still have the heart for it after that Bayern Munich sucker-punch?
Thanks for reading.