When Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger rested a multitude of starters in Saturday's cap against Blackburn Rovers and cost his side a spot in the FA Cup, the overarching justification was Tuesday's Champions League clash versus Bayern Munich took priority.
Well, Wenger might want to consider starting his most important players prior to next month's second leg. Arsenal lost, 3-1, to Bayern on Tuesday in a match that saw the Gunners pale in comparison to their Bundesliga counterparts.
Bayern was not just better, they were dominant. Starting off the match with two goals in the first 21 minutes, Bayern were already skating to victory before Arsenal had time to recover. With the two sides headed to Allianz Arena for the second match and the Gunners needing three goals to have a chance, things are looking mighty dire for Wenger's side at the moment.
But where there is a will, there has always been a way. With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of where Arsenal must improve prior to their March fixture versus Bayern.
Be Better Prepared, Play Under Control
There isn't many times where Wenger's side looks noticeably flustered on the pitch, but that was on full display on Tuesday. Arsenal drew five yellow cards—at Emirates Stadium, no less—which is a shocking figure for a squad that consistently ranks among the least-carded in the Premier League standings.
That wasn't the case against Bayern. Arsenal looked frustrated, taking bad chances on tackles that had little chance of coming up with a good result, and more than anything, sloppy. Wenger, with his flabbergasted side still under fire after Saturday's FA Cup elimination, simply did not have his team in fine form in a critical match.
The yellow cards are the easiest evidence of that fact. Bacary Sagna and Mikel Arteta were shown yellow cards within mere minutes of each other for sloppy and potentially dangerous tackles. In what may be the least coincidental thing in the history of everdom, Sagna and Arteta drew those cards mere minutes after Thomas Muller's strike in the 21st minute.
Some of the calls later in the match were admittedly questionable. Bayern had three of their own yellow cards, as the officials seemed awfully friendly with the whistles and cards.
But the numbers don't lie. There is rarely any instance where drawing five yellow cards is acceptable, and this was not one of them. Wenger's side simply wasn't ready, got beat early and made poor decisions.
There isn't much constructively that can be done here other than telling Wenger to do a better job of corralling his players' emotions and getting them ready early in the match.
Avoid Another Defeat at Midfield
Ask pundits what they thought the key was prior to Tuesday's match, and overwhelmingly they would come back with some midfield-related answer. This was arguably a matchup of the finest passing midfields in the world, one where neither side could avoid a lackluster performance.
Well, there is a very good reason Arsenal went down and went down early.
Bayern midfielders Muller and Toni Kroos scored goals for their side, and advanced the ball past the white stripe with relative ease. Though the Gunners held possession for much of the match, it was Bayern's midfield dominance that allowed their side to take a commanding lead.
Unsurprisingly, that also meant an uncharacteristically middling performance from the Arsenal side. Arteta had a particularly wretched performance Tuesday evening. Not only did he draw a yellow card, but that was just one of five different fouls he committed for Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey also did not have his best performance and was pulled by Wenger in the 71st minute.
Arsenal cannot have that type of middling frustration come March, especially playing at Allianz Arena. They will need to control the pitch at all times, and that starts with the play of their midfielders.
Based on how much they were outclassed this go-around, that will be easier said than done.
Calling Theo Walcott
One of the finest young players in the world, forward Theo Walcott is under pressure every time he puts on an Arsenal kit. He's expected to not just show up and play well, but become the most dominant face in the match.
To put it mildly, Walcott has struggled to do so of late. Tuesday was the 23-year-old's fourth straight match without a goal, and he failed to make any significant impact when his team needed him most.
Walcott shot just once, a blocked attempt late in the first half, and also drew a critical offsides penalty late in the match, negating a splendid pass from Rosicky.
One could venture to say the pressure of his shiny new contract is getting to him. But that would be unfair. Walcott scored in four straight matches immediately after signing his near-£100,000-per-week contract and seemed to be basking in the limelight.
Criticizing the effect of Walcott's contract would be blatant recency bias. He's just not playing well. But with Arsenal's season hanging in the balance, Walcott has precious little time to recapture his form.
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