Arsenal edge Bayern to keep Champions League hopes alive
Arsenal revived their European dreams with a stunning 2-0 win over Bayern Munich at the Emirates on Tuesday night to put them right back into the UEFA Champions League mix.
Seemingly adrft after losing their first two games — and to minnows — Arsenal gutted out a massive win behind goals from Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil on Tuesday night against what is the consensus best team in Europe at this time.
This was effectively a must-win game for Arsenal, who had to date failed to collect a single point in this year’s Champions League, and it must be said that after years of disappointment and underachievement, they finally came good in a big game. Riding high after solid wins over rivals Manchester United and a tricky league game at Watford, Arsenal played a pragmatic game, absorbing some ferocious pressure from the German champions, then springing on the counter to strike.
But it took some time, and to be sure, Bayern must have felt like they had at least a point in hand until the 77th minute. That was when Giroud scored a scrappy goal in the 77th minute off a Santi Cazorla free kick after Manuel Neuer made an uncharacteristic mistake. The keeper rushed out to collect the ball but totally missed, allowing Giroud to stumble into the ball and head it home. It was the first goal Bayern had conceded this European campaign and it was utterly against the run of play. A gassed Arsenal side had been run around for most of the game by this slick-passing Bayern team and it looked unlikely that the home side were to snatch a win.
Ozil then added the second on a clean breakway sparked by Hector Bellerin at midfield in stoppage. Seizing on a loose pass, he found Ozil at the near post, and his teammate blasted the ball in near post. Neuer got a glove to it and clawed it out but the fifth official on the endline correctly ruled the ball had crossed the line, and awarded the goal.
This result was not what anyone expected. In fact, Arsenal struggled to get the game to heel in much of the first half, with Bayern overwhelmingly controlling the flow and pace of the game. Thiago Alcantara and Thomas Muller were particularly dangerous, combining in the 11th minute on a slick one-two that forced Petr Cech into a fine stop.
Part of Arsenal’s problem was that they could not get out of their own half of the field for a solid twenty minutes. Francis Coquelin was playing a bit too far in front of his centerbacks — understandably reluctant to range forward — but that left space for Douglas Costa and Robert Lewandowski to ghost into. And with Bellerin tormented by Costa on one flank and Nacho Monreal harried by Thomas Muller on the other, it felt as if Arsenal might be in for a long night.
Costa in fact nearly scored in the 18th minute with an audacious turn that left Bellerin screwed into the turf, but he would be denied near post by Cech. And Arturo Vidal, again exploiting the space behind Coquelin forced Cech into a brave parry in the 28th.
But then things suddenly shifted. Alexis Sanchez, who had been forced to ride back to shield Monreal, was able to spring forward and he began pulling the strings with Theo Walcott as the runner up top. Walcott would be gifted a chance in the 22nd with a nice dinked ball over the diminutive Philipp Lahm but he could not settle and control the ball. David Alaba was then forced to make a fine block when Walcott and Alexis ran the give and go in the 30th.
The key moment came in the 32nd, when Neuer made the save of the game, an audacious one-handed claw to deny Walcott a point-blank header. That signaled that Arsenal were capable of scoring — but also that the best goalkeeper on the planet was likely to be the X-factor here on Tuesday. Still, it was true that while Cech made more saves than Neuer in the first half, few of them were beyond routine — Neuer, on the other hand, had foiled the better chances.
The second half, however, showed the difference in class. Bayern had made Arsenal cover a ferocious amount of ground in the first half, and the exertion showed. Bayern continued to keep men pinned on the sideline to spread the field and force Arsenal to cover more space than they wished to. It had the effect of blunting Walcott’s searing runs down the middle as the Gunners seemed to run out of gas.
Lewandowski almost made Arsenal pay dearly in the 75th when he raced into the area and forced a fine diving save out of Cech. He almost made them pay again in stoppage on a carbon copy of a play, only to be foiled by Laurent Koscielny with a brave stop.
But inbetween, Arsenal had scored twice, and with Bayern’s travelling support uncharacteristically silenced, the Emrirates was aroar. Arsenal still have much to do in Group E, but they grabbed a lifeline on Tuesday night and showed a resilience that has not often been ascribed to them to boot.
"This goal relieved us," Giroud told BT Sport, referring to his opportunistic opener after the win. "We did well until the goal and defended really well. Bayern will have the ball, they are very good in possession and they finish [the match] with 70 percent of the ball.
"They dominated the game but we knew that [they would] and we were able to finish it off."
Information from Goal.com was used in this report.