Bayern advance to quarters, edge Arsenal on aggregate
Bayern’s charge to repeat as European champions rolled on in Munich, as a scrambling, pressing and slick Munich side stifled Arsenal 1-1 en route to a 3-1 aggregate win at Allianz Arena on Tuesday night. Bayern advanced to the quarterfinals off the result where they await their next opponents, while Arsenal go back to England and await yet another season.
It was a dominant performance that showed the gap between the German giants and, well, everyone else. Only Real Madrid looks to have the pace and skill to keep up with Pep Guardiola’s charges, who are quickly becoming the top club team in Europe.
It’s too early to speak of a dynasty, but Bayern’s dominance in Germany and on the continent is startling. They look unstoppable, and while the English will be wringing their hands over a perceived gap between the Premier League and the Bundesliga, the fact is, there are almost no teams anywhere in the world that can keep up with the big red machine. On Tuesday, Arsenal didn’t even look close, slow to the ball, erratic on their crosses, awry on their trapping. That wasn’t because they are a lousy team, mind you — it’s because Bayern are that much better, and unsettled them.
Bastian Schweinsteiger broke open the game just after the half. Santi Cazorla failed to track back with his man and Franck Ribery’s cross past Bacary Sagna could hardly be spurned. It was the moment that turned the game from training ground exercise into spectacle as Arsenal would quickly respond, but since Bayern had done all the heavy lifting three weeks prior in London, it was merely confirmation of their superiority.
Arsenal were never really able to get a toehold as Bayern played an effective passing game when they had the ball and a deadly, stifling press when they did it. What was missing from much of the first half were clear-cut chances, however. Only Arjen Robben and Mario Goetze forced Lukasz Fabianski to scramble; and arguably Manuel Neuer was just as busy, stopping a fairly straightforward header from Olivier Giroud — Javi Martinez did have the ball in the net at one point for Bayern but was correctly ruled offside. The best moment of the night for Arsenal? Arguably, it was when Fabianski brilliantly saved a late penalty from Thomas Muller, harshly given after Robben flopped in the box.
That lack of goalmouth action should not disguise the Bavarian’s dominance, however. They were camped out for large stretches in the Arsenal half, and towards the break, started to really test the Gunners’ resolve. Philipp Lahm consistently drove at makeshift back Thomas Vermaelen in an attempt to dislodge Laurent Koscielny; David Alaba had a tougher time with Bacary Sagna but still managed to fire in a couple good crosses unmolested. Thiago simply outworked the Arsenal midfield by himself, with only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looking capable of asking any questions. And Mesut Ozil, so dreadful in the first game? His struggles continued as he was yanked at the half in a ruthless move from Arsene Wenger, who normally waits to make such changes until later in the match.
Had Robben made more of his service, this game might have been decided far earlier. Robben screwed one shot into the turf and over the bar after Franck Ribery found him on the break; it was a disappointing effort for someone known for being so clinical. He would repeat the error later in the half when he misdirected a ball, scraping it into Koscielny and away instead of to the far post.
Lukas Podolski would nick the equalizer minutes after Schweinsteiger’s goal when he shrugged off Philipp Lahm, sized up the near post, and roofed one in past a stunned Manuel Neuer. But while that gave the crowd a start — and resulted in a few jitters for the normally unflappable Neuer — it was too little, too late. Bayern simply settled into playing keep-away, Arsenal were left to chase.
Meanwhile in Spain, Atletico Madrid progressed to the last eight with an thumping 4-1 win over AC Milan [5-1 on aggregate] in Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 second leg at an emotional Estadio Vicente Calderon.
The atmosphere was electric pre-kick off, and the noise at the Calderon ratcheted up even further just 158 seconds in when Diego Costa twisted himself to acrobatically volley in Koke’s accurate back post cross.
It was the quickest goal for Atletico in their entire Champions League history — and a disaster for the flat-footed visitors. But Milan bit by bit edged into the game, with Kaka pulling the strings in the midfield. Mario Balotelli was quiet, but one quick clever pass sent Andrea Poli racing down the right, and the Brazilian playmaker popped up to head the cross home for the equalizer.
The Calderon crowd took a long, deep breath, and then began to lift their side again. Atleti were soon back in front when Arda Turan’s snappy 20-yard volley clipped Adil Rami’s shoulder and sailed over stranded Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati to the net. There was luck involved, but Raul Garcia deserved better a few moments later when his fantastic bicycle-kick sailed just wide. And Atletico was worth its lead at the break.
Milan coach Clarence Seedorf kept making switches through the second half, but nothing worked. Costa and Garcia were busting a gut to get into every challenge, while Koke and Arda showed cool on ball to hold possession and take the sting out of the Italian side’s challenge.
It was all over when Garcia nodded in with 20 minutes left, and Atletico fans began to bounce up and down in joy in the stands. Costa added the cherry on top by pinging in a fine second goal of the night late on, and the ground roared its love of coach Diego Simeone.
Simeone was a player here the last time Atletico made the Champions League quarterfinals, all of 17 years ago. He only came back as a coach just over two years back, and in quick flash time, with no money to spend, has built a formidable side. Nobody — but nobody — will want Atletico in the draw now.
Spain correspondent Dermot Corrigan contributed to this report.