Bayern Munich Beaten by Arsenal; Labor to Lacklustre Away-Goals Victory
The Bayern Munich who bulldozed Arsenal at the Emirates were nowhere to be seen at the Allianz Arena.
Gone were the rampaging, runaway German-league leaders, and in their place a far meeker beast—who succumbed to nerves and suffered the eerie silence of their fans as they dragged their feet through the sodden turf and into the Champions League quarterfinals.
There would be no Munich miracle for Arsenal, whose valiant effort was denied by the away-goals rule, but neither would there be statement of intent from Bayern. Twenty-four hours after watching Barcelona at their bewitching best against AC Milan, Bayern's argument as Champions League favourites was an unconvincing one, to say the least.
Jupp Heyneckes' team had won their last fives game in Munich by an aggregate score of 16-3, but Olivier Giroud's early goal for Arsenal knocked the swagger out of their step inside the first five minutes. Fear took over; Bayern's fans perhaps allowed themselves to ponder if the misery they suffered against Chelsea in last season's final was about to befall them all over again.
Arsenal, with nothing to lose but further pride and their downfall long since assumed, just kept playing. They passed and moved, and tackled and blocked. The same defence that was found wanting in North London showed far more cohesion this time around—Arsenal's offside trap working on several occasions to deny Bayern runs in behind.
Bayern had their chances, but this time, they didn't take them. The predatory finishing of Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Mario Mandzukic that defined the first leg was nowhere to be seen, and as the game progressed, frustration grew.
And then, with five minutes to play, Arsenal got a second—Laurent Koscielny winning a header close in and managing to steer it past Manuel Neuer, who held on to the ball for dear life afterwards in an attempt to deny Arsenal a swift retreat for the restart. If Bayern were scared before, now they were terrified.
As the game played out, we finally heard from Bayern's massed hoards—their shrieked whistles pleading for the referee to end this torture as soon as possible. They had come ready to celebrate, but they left in relief—beaten, 2-0, at home by a team struggling to maintain a hold inside the Premier League Top Four and without their best player, Jack Wilshere, to help them.
Bayern fans might argue they missed the suspended Bastian Schweinsteiger and the injured Franck Ribery just as greatly. And while genuine Champions League contenders must learn to cope without genuine stars—it's part of the process of tournament football—it's not right to pass judgement too sternly on a team minus two such influential components.
We shouldn't be hasty, either. Let's not forget Barca were beaten, 2-0, by Milan. Three weeks later, they were the best team on the planet again.
That said, Bayern's unconvincing performance will at least offer hope to whoever draws them on Friday. If Arsenal can go and win 2-0 in Munich, then so can Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona—all of whom are stronger than Arsene Wenger's team.
Bayern are much better than they showed on Wednesday night, we know that much. We also know that they can be vulnerable, and they are not immune to the pressure of a big occasion. Expectancy is the weight that comes with being a good team; learning how to cope with it is what will make Bayern a great one.
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