Serge Gnabry's four-goal heroics for Bayern Munich in the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League on Tuesday night were likely bittersweet for Arsenal fans.
Gunners supporters would have enjoyed seeing one of the club's former players punish north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, helping Die Roten leave England with a 7-2 win. However, Gnabry's masterclass must make Arsenal think "what if?" about a player sold for just £5 million to Werder Bremen back in 2016, who is now a bona fide star for one of the heavyweights of the tournament.
Spurs' right-back Serge Aurier will be glad he doesn't have to face Gnabry in the Premier League after the winger ruthlessly exposed his defensive vulnerabilities. Aurier's horror show emphasised Tottenham's growing problem at the position since Kieran Trippier was sold to Atletico Madrid during the summer.
While last season's beaten finalists took a hiding, record winners Real Madrid could only manage a draw at home to Club Brugge. Thibaut Courtois was the fall guy after a disastrous first half saw the former Chelsea goalkeeper hooked in favour of Alphonse Areola.
Real haven't been the same since Cristiano Ronaldo left in the summer of 2018. Ronaldo is now the attacking talisman for a Juventus side 3-0 winners over Bayer Leverkusen.
While Ronaldo netted the third goal, Gonzalo Higuain proved his value for the Bianconeri. The Argentinian is a player reborn after returning from drab loan spells with AC Milan and Chelsea and finding the support of Maurizio Sarri.
- Real Madrid 2-2 Club Brugge
- Atalanta 1-2 Shakhtar Donetsk
- Galatasaray 0-1 Paris Saint-Germain
- Tottenham Hotspur 2-7 Bayern Munich
- Red Star Belgrade 3-1 Olympiacos
- Manchester City 2-0 Dinamo Zagreb
- Juventus 3-0 Bayer Leverkusen
- Lokomotiv Moscow 0-2 Atletico Madrid
Winner: Serge Gnabry
There were only glimpses of potential before Gnabry moved to Bayern. He made his Premier League debut for Arsenal during a defeat to Norwich City in 2012 and scored in a win away to Swansea City a year later.
Arsene Wenger had fast-tracked the young prospect he'd signed from Stuttgart through the first team. It was Wenger who recalled Gnabry from a loan with West Bromwich Albion in 2016, lamenting how the Baggies hadn't given him enough playing time, with then-West Brom manager Tony Pulis saying the player wasn't "at the level" to feature, per Josh Challies of the Birmingham Mail.
Credit belongs to Gnabry for responding to these struggles and making himself a burgeoning superstar at the highest level. He can consider the trip to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as his breakout night, the moment when the wider audience finally took notice of the core talents Arsenal had first spotted years ago.
While things didn't work out the way Wenger wanted, the Frenchman probably treated himself to a wry smile seeing how much the youngster has developed:
The bigger smile is likely being worn by Bayern boss Niko Kovac, who knows he has a genuine and marquee match-winner with his best years ahead of him who could lead a refreshed Bayern squad all the way to the trophy.
Loser: Serge Aurier
Aurier's big audition to replace Trippier has fallen flat in the space of a few days. Two yellow cards in four minutes saw him sent off during Saturday's game against Southampton in the Premier League.
It turns out Spurs still winning 2-1 said more about the struggles of the lowly Saints than Tottenham's strength in depth to cope with 10 men. It's a lot harder to cover for a player's mistakes against opposition the quality of Bayern.
Aurier was routinely victimised by Gnabry's pace and the timing of his runs. Gnabry didn't need help getting more goals, but Aurier gave him some by frequently losing discipline and wandering out of position:
Breaking down one side of Spurs' formation against a Bayern team that looked dangerous on the counter from the off was a beyond-curious decision from Aurier. His reckless wanderlust spoke to the erratic nature of Aurier's game, hardly a quality a team struggling this season needs to indulge in defence.
Indulging Aurier's bad habits on the pitch is something Tottenham can no longer afford to do. There has never been any denying the 26-year-old's talent, but he continues to keep people waiting for the light to finally go on.
Winner: Gonzalo Higuain
Higuain's time at the top level of European Football looked up during the dog days of last season. He'd been passed like an unwanted present from Juve to Milan and finally to Chelsea.
All the moving around did little to get him back on form. Ironically, all the South American needed was another tour of duty in Turin.
Working with Sarri, who managed him at Napoli and Chelsea, has helped. The Bianconeri chief believes in Higuain's natural talents and has his back.
Sarri aside, the bigger factor in Higuain's revival has been joining a squad loaded with talent. Ronaldo is taking markers away from Higuain, while Miralem Pjanic, Aaron Ramsey and Paulo Dybala keep him supplied with chances.
Higuain took one of the chances to open the scoring against Leverkusen and add another signpost on his comeback tour:
A few years toiling without achievement are over and Higuain has his swagger back. He can still deliver a clinic on how to play No. 9 on this stage, and his performances will be just as important as Ronaldo's for Juve's chances of lifting the trophy.
Loser: Thibaut Courtois
Things just haven't clicked between Courtois and Real. He was a colossus for Atletico Madrid then Chelsea, but the Belgian has been a shadow of himself at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The nadir appeared to be reached after Courtois was beaten twice by Emmanuel Bonaventure Dennis in the opening 45 minutes. Courtois was at fault for both goals, taking up a terrible position for the first which left him stranded even after the Brugge striker hit the ball against his own standing leg.
Bonaventure stumbled ahead of applying the last touch for his second, but Courtois still couldn't react quickly enough.
As bad as things were, it was still a surprise to see Courtois make way for Areola at the break. The change has since been attributed to illness:
Even if there was a legitimate reason for the early withdrawal, Courtois had already added another sorry chapter to what is turning out to be a tragic story for the once-revered stopper and Los Blancos.
Areola's save to deny Bonaventure early in the second half kept Real in it and gave the hosts the chance to battle back and earn a point. It also highlighted how things have usually been better for Los Merengues when somebody other than Courtois has been between the sticks.
Courtois' strugglers are symptomatic of the malaise gripping Real since Ronaldo left. Too many of the big names brought in to offset his departure haven't delivered, while established holdovers like Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos appear on the wane.