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Pain deepens for Arsenal after loss

FOX Soccer: Recap of Bayern Munich's dismantling of Arsenal.
FOX Soccer: Recap of Bayern Munich's dismantling of Arsenal.
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Patrick Barclay

Patrick Barclay is one of England's most experienced soccer writers. He has covered the game for every broadsheet newspaper and attended eight World Cups. Barclay is the author of biographies of Jose Mourinho (Further Anatomy of a Winner) and Sir Alex Ferguson (Football - Bloody Hell!) You can follow him on Twitter @paddybarclay.

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LONDON, ENGLAND

Barring a miracle in the Allianz Arena, that's it: the end of Arsenal as a Champions League perennial. Or so it's looking after Tuesday's 3-1 home defeat to the hands of Bayern Munich.

This is the sixteenth consecutive year in which Arsenal has competed at arguably the highest level soccer has to offer, but the North London giant faces an uphill struggle to get in the tournament next season.

Yes, Arsenal could overhaul local rival Tottenham Hotspur and finish fourth in the Premier League - but even that means of qualification is appearing a fainter hope with every game that passes.

Last weekend it was Blackburn Rovers from a division down in the FA Cup - and a 1-0 defeat for Arsenal. Tuesday, all of the Gunners’ rested stars were back in the starting lineup and a familiar tale of gloom unfolded as Bayern took almost instant control of Arsene Wenger's team.

Let's not hide how good a team Bayern is - the German club came within a few minutes of winning the Champions League in its own stadium last spring, until Didier Drogba turned the event on its head with a headed equalizer and a shootout penalty - but it also must be said that Jupp Heynckes's men had it too easy on the Emirates Stadium turf.

Bayern needed only seven minutes to lead through Toni Kroos and 20 in total to remove the edge from the contest with a second goal from Thomas Muller. This Arsenal could offer little but fouls at first - captain Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna and Mikel Arteta had all seen yellow cards by the 24th minute (Lukas Podolski and Aaron Ramsey had added themselves to the list before the end).

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A better attitude after Wenger's halftime talk saw Arsenal reduce the deficit within 10 minutes of the resumption. It was a strange goal, because you don't often see a corner bounce in the goalmouth, but Santi Cazorla's swirling effort did, and Lukas Podolski was on hand to nod one in against his compatriots.

We then had a real game on our hands at last. Although this tense phase lasted only 22 minutes, it did contain what might have been a very satisfying moment for Wenger after the equalizer that got away.

A double substitution saw Thomas Rosicky and Olivier Giroud come on, with Theo Walcott, originally the main striker, moving to the right to accommodate Giroud. Within a minute Rosicky had swept the ball wide to Walcott, whose short cross found Giroud first time only to hit goalkeeper Manuel Neuer on the line.

That was bad luck and Bayern rubbed it in by scoring their third five minutes later through Mario Mandzukic, who scrambled in Phillip Lahm's short cross after the right back had cleverly overlapped. The Gunners then accepted that there would be no reprieve from a further bucket-load of the negative publicity engulfing the club.

It had been bad enough on matchday morning when the fans awoke to headlines created by Wenger with his rant at the Monday press conference; a strange one, given that it had been prompted by a story claiming that the board, far from getting ready to part company with the long-time coach, was preparing a new two-year contract to replace the one due to run out in the summer of 2014.

What bugged Wenger was that such a tale might further incense the fans demanding he stands down. ''You can say I am doing a bad job,'' he added, ''but being manipulative is wrong." By the post-match conference Wenger was able to clarify his objection, saying matters of misinformation were different from questions of opinion, which he had always accepted as a fair point.

In fact, the ladies and gentlemen of the press have been remarkably slow to dip their pens in poison where Wenger is concerned. Unlike some coaches in England, he always has time for the media. And, of course, we remember when his team played the finest soccer in the country.

It is but a fond memory now. Most of the excitement is concentrated in the low-slung frame of Jack Wilshere, the young Englishman who earned rave reviews for his midfield display for the national team against Brazil at Wembley earlier this month.

Once again he often dazzled Tuesday night. Indeed he was the best player on the field, for all the excellence of Bastian Schweinsteiger - marred by a yellow card that rules him out of the second leg - Kroos and striker Mandzukic. And even that contains the seeds of a problem, for, if Arsenal fails to secure a Champions League seat next season, how long can they hold on to Wilshere?

That's for the longer-term. Right now, the priority is Aston Villa at the Emirates on Saturday. Somehow Wenger has to instill the confidence in his team necessary to rack up three points in advance of the crunch game with Tottenham at White Hart Lane eight days later. It was tough Tuesday night - and it's not going to get any easier.

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