Close, but no cigar.
Arsenal took the early lead at Allianz Arena before levelling their Round of 16 tie with Bayern Munich on aggregate in the final moments of Wednesday’s match, but in the end their 3-1 defeat in the first leg proved their undoing as they went out of the Champions League on away goals.
That said, the Gunners can hold their heads high and return to London with pride, and even manager Arsene Wenger—who before kickoff was criticized for starting a weakened side—can feel somewhat vindicated.
Not so Jupp Heynckes and Bayern.
The hosts lacked anything resembling intensity at Allianz Arena and were forced to hold on to a 2-0 loss in order to get into the pot for Friday’s draw. If they have any intention of advancing from the next round, they’ll have to find another gear, and fast.
Here, then, are some things we learned about both sides during Wednesday’s encounter. And it goes without saying they include a handful of items we would never have expected to arise prior to the match.
Arsenal will go into the weekend’s round of Premier League fixtures trailing London rivals Chelsea, as well as the final Champions League berth for next season, by five points with just 10 matches to play. They’ll visit League Cup winners Swansea on Saturday, and manager Arsene Wenger clearly had that encounter in mind when he named his team to face Bayern Munich.
Absent were Bacary Sagna and Lukas Podolski—both left back at home with niggling injuries—and Jack Wilshere was granted leave to rest an inflamed ankle. He would likely have started Wednesday’s match had Arsenal not been shellacked in the first leg.
Goalkeeper Wojciek Szczesny was rested as well, and Laurent Koscielny was given a rare start ahead of Tomas Vermaelen.
Wenger’s side will likely have a much different look to it at Liberty Stadium, and it should hardly be surprising. Arsenal require Champions League money to operate as they have for the previous 16 years—since the last time they missed out on Europe’s premiere club competition—and fourth place obviously holds more promise to Wenger than the fool’s hope of a Munich miracle ever did.
Yes, they did enough in the first leg to ensure a bit of comfort in the return match, but if Bayern Munich take the sort of intensity (or lack thereof) they showed on Wednesday into the quarterfinals, their Champions League campaign will be over by the second week of April.
Simply put, they need to find an extra gear.
Having made a record-breaking start to their domestic campaign, Bayern established a 20 point lead on second-place Borussia Dortmund last weekend and will be on cruise control down the stretch in the Bundesliga.
And while that’s all well and good, they’ll have to crank it up a notch in Europe if they hope to erase the painful memories of last May’s loss to Chelsea on penalties in the Champions League final.
They didn’t win the tie, but Arsenal beat Bayern Munich on the German side’s own pitch and can head back to London with their pride at least partially restored.
Had they suffered another heavy defeat, the team’s already trembling spirit would have been devastated further, perhaps derailing any attempt to get back into the top four of the Premier League by the end of May.
They can take heart from Wednesday’s victory, knowing that they defeated one of the best sides on the continent—a heavy favourite to do the treble this spring.
The booking Bastian Schweinsteiger picked up in the first leg of this Round of 16 tie meant he’d have to sit out the return fixture due to suspension, and his absence was noticeable in Bayern’s performance.
For much of the 90 minutes, the hosts lacked the fluency, tempo and intensity that are Schweinsteiger hallmarks, and while Luiz Gustavo did well enough in the centre of the park, he was never going to replace everything the 28-year-old brings to the table.
While Dante, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Mario Mandzukic have been taking the plaudits for Bayern’s exceptional season to date, Schweinsteiger has quietly gone about his business, showing his teammates just what they missed last term when he was injured.
Schweinsteiger is one of the top central midfielders in world football—the sort of player you can make do without, but are far more effective with.
Arsene Wenger raised some eyebrows when he revealed Lukasz Fabianski would be starting Wednesday’s match in place of No. 1 goalkeeper Wojciek Szczesny.
“[Szczesny] is mentally affected a little bit, so I decided to rest him,” he said during his pre-match press conference (Daily Mail).
He may have difficulty going back to Szczesny for Saturday’s match at Swansea, so impressive was Fabianski’s performance against Bayern Munich.
Three Fabianski saves, in particular, stand out.
In the 25th minute, with Arsenal ahead 1-0 through Olivier Giroud’s early opener, the 27-year-old did well to deny Toni Kroos after the Germany international had been played through by Bayern captain Phillip Lahm.
Fabianski came up big in the 69th minute as well, unfortunately for Arjen Robben, who had received the ball following a clever backheel from Thomas Muller. And with just eight minutes to play, the Pole stretched out to block a powerful Muller shot and preserve his side’s slender lead.
His play between the sticks provided a platform for his teammates to go out and take their chances—two of which found the back of the Bayern net.
Just a few weeks ago, it was widely expected that both Real Madrid and Barcelona were heading out of the Champions League, thus making Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich the odds-on favourite to lift a first European Cup since 2001.
How things have changed since then.
Last week, Real Madrid benefitted from a controversial Nani red card and came back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 at Old Trafford, progressing on away goals. And on Tuesday, Barcelona overturned a 2-0 deficit from their first leg away to AC Milan by thumping the Rossoneri to the tune of 4-0.
Now add in Bayern Munich’s poor performance against Arsenal and you have an equation that simply doesn’t equal a place on the Wembley podium for the Bavarian giants—that is, unless they can find an extra gear for the quarterfinals.
The malaise of a straightforward stretch run to a record 23rd German title has clearly taken away their edge, and in the meantime the progression of Madrid and Barcelona has changed the thinking as far as the list of favourites is concerned.