In what was always going to be a somewhat impossible task, Arsenal travelled to meet Bayern Munich in the first knockout round of the Champions League and ultimately failed to do what was needed with an average 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena, which correlated to a 3-1 win on aggregate to the German side.
The first half began with the expected exchanges between both sides as Bayern took the incentive and the game to the Gunners back line with a number of peppered chances around the visitors' own box.
Bavarian coach Pep Guardiola went for a few interesting choices ahead of the game with club captain Philipp Lahm not in his usual defensive midfield role but at right-back instead of Brazilian full-back Rafinha, while Thiago Alcantara started ahead of rumour mill regular Toni Kroos in the centre of midfield.
Yet the first half seemed as though it was destined to remain a cagey affair when the only open opportunity came halfway through the first half when none other than young Spaniard Thiago tried a through ball for his compatriot Javi Martinez, who scored before finding his efforts ruled out for being offside.
Arsenal, like the cautious dog that they were before and throughout the tie, continued to defend bravely throughout the first half, and despite being fortunate with the bounce of the ball at times, would have been content with the scoreline at the halfway point.
It was, in fact, Arjen Robben and David Alaba on each wing who attacked from deep on numerous occasions who offered all but only brought continued frustration in Guardiola’s constant gaze. Mario Gotze, Mario Mandzukic and the rest may have been present, but it was the German champions’ wide play that seemed to offer the best opportunities for a goal.
At half-time, the score was 0-0 as Bayern continued their pursuit of putting the tie beyond Arsenal’s reach, while the Premier League side walked in at the halfway point with the faintest hope keeping them from utter discontent.
We began the second half with a Mesut Ozil-less Arsenal as Arsene Wenger made the decision to remove his German star from the most important of games. Tomas Rosicky took his place in the English frontline to the continued dispair of Arsenal’s patient fans.
This was the kind of game that they expected to see their record signing perform in. Yet it was none other than Bastian Schweinsteiger, the returning star of Bayern’s youth system, who opened the scoring when Franck Ribery skipped past Bacary Sagna and squared the ball to the Germany and Bayern vice captain.
Then as if nothing had ever changed, Lukas Podolski picked the ball off Lahm in his own box to smash the ball past Manuel Neuer just moments later. Bayern may have taken the lead, but Arsenal pulled one back almost instantaneously. As Guardiola turned away in disgust, Arsenal reaped the rewards of renewed hope.
What was most peculiar was the fact that although Bayern always looked in control of the game, it was Arsenal’s persistent desire to play a style of total football akin to Guardiola’s mantra at the German club that offered the most resistance to their desire to win.
Where the German and European champions had regularly dominated and methodically set about winning games either in the Bundesliga or throughout the Champions League, Wenger’s side offered a game style so similar to their own that it set up a genuine stumbling block. Bayern huffed and puffed but simply couldn’t blow Arsenal down.
Perhaps the most telling moment of the second half was the late penalty that Bayern were awarded after Laurent Koscielny brought Robben down in the box after a stretched run of play.
Thomas Muller, the Bayern prodigy who had just came on moments before, stepped up and hit a shot that Lukasz Fabianski managed to catch on the line. Bayern had came so close to extending their lead, but the English side did just enough to keep the score equal.
In the end Bayern overcame Arsenal by rather underwhelming means and will now progress to the next round of the Champions League as Europe's current champions and one of its strongest sides. Whoever their next opponents are, this is a tournament Bayern seem almost destined to win.
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