Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich: Brave Gunners Should Hold Their Heads High

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2014

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere reacts after a Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match between Arsenal and Bayern Munich at the Emirates stadium in London, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 .(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Alastair Grant/Associated Press

Against Bayern Munich, Arsenal started boldly, fought bravely but finished beaten.

Progression to the next stage of the Champions League looks improbable at best. However, there's no need for any great cross-examination: Arsenal gave their best on a night when events conspired against them.

Arsene Wenger made the first bold move of the night, naming Yaya Sanogo ahead of Olivier Giroud at centre-forward. The suspicion was that Giroud’s headline-grabbing off-field antics had contributed heavily to his omission from the starting line-up.

However, the inclusion of the promising Sanogo gave Arsenal fans cause for some excitement: His start in the previous game against Liverpool had shown that his raw enthusiasm is not tempered by the big occasion.

Wenger also made the attacking choice to start Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Oxlade-Chamberlain had arguably been Arsenal’s star performer against Liverpool and retained his place on merit.

The sense of anticipation created by Wenger’s intriguing team selection carried over to the start of the game. The Arsenal crowd were raucous, the Arsenal team sharp. Bayern could barely live with their effervescent attacking play.

After just nine minutes, Arsenal were handed a superb opportunity to take the lead. Jack Wilshere played in Mesut Ozil, and the German’s drag-back deceived international colleague Jerome Boateng into committing a clumsy foul.

Ozil stepped up to take the resulting spot-kick. However, for the second time in his nascent Arsenal career, his penalty was saved. A casual run-up didn’t help, and Ozil’s childhood friend Manuel Neuer was able to anticipate the placement of the dead ball.

The crowd were hushed and the momentum slowly began to swing back in Bayern’s favour. However, before half-time, another hammer blow would be dealt to Arsenal’s chancesone that would effectively kill the game.

Shortly before the break, Arjen Robben raced on to a lofted pass and flicked the ball beyond the onrushing Wojciech Szczesny. The two players collided, and the referee inevitably blew for the penalty. In line with the laws of the game, he then sent Szczesny off.

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

David Alaba followed Ozil’s lead by missing the penalty, but the damage was done. A game that had been evolving into an engaging spectacle descended into a procession.

Bayern are perfectly suited to exploit a team with 10 men. They spread the play, using the width of the pitch to stretch a team as if on a torture rack.

The opening goal from Toni Kroos was tough to take, but Arsenal remained resolute. They showed excellent spirit and organisation to stay in the game. Given that, the late header from Thomas Muller was a real kick in the teeth.

Arsenal are left wondering "what if?" Had Ozil scored his penalty or Szczesny stayed on the pitch, things might have been different.

However, there’s no need for despair. Arsenal fought proudly against the one of the best club sides in the world. The Gunners are still in with a great chance in both the FA Cup and the Premier League. What’s more, Arsene Wenger is insistent that their Champions League chances are not yet over.

If they play again with that spirit, who knows? Perhaps they can even repeat their miracle result of 2013 in the Allianz Arena and keep the tie alive.

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.