Arsenal faces truth after valiant exit
For a single, brief moment, the impossible seemed possible. Arsenal, needing three goals to stay in the UEFA Champions League, had just nabbed their second of the evening, a header that slipped past Bayern Munich’s backline and in past Manuel Neuer’s gloves.
Unfortunately, that was in the 85th minute of the game. Time ran out on Arsenal and they would win 2-0 – but go out on the away goals tiebreaker rule 3-3 to mighty Bayern.
Some will spin the game as a heartbreaker on par with last year’s heroic comeback in Milan, when Arsenal scored three unanswered goals – but could not find a fourth. In truth, this was a lackluster match that showcased a greatly diminished Arsenal side against a Bayern team missing two of its most influential players. Munich may have looked nervous at times, but the reality is that they were only in true danger for a very short spell. There was no bravery on display here from the Gunners – this was an average game played against a good team having a bad night.
The result left England without a single representative in the quarterfinals for the first time since the 1995-96 season, and consigns Arsenal and their manager Arsene Wenger to an eighth straight season without a trophy to their names.
Bayern entered the game without their engines in midfield; the dynamic Bastian Schweinsteiger, who functions as the team’s metronome; and harrying winger Franck Ribery. Without them, Bayern looked a shadow of its normal dynamic self – the mechanical and efficient side that tore Arsenal apart in the first leg 3-1. Arjen Robben had only a mild influence on the game, testing Lukasz Fabianski once; and Toni Kroos faded badly as the game wore on.
To the Germans’ credit, they had very little to do. Arsenal were wasteful in possession and had they not nicked a goal right at the start, the match would have never been in doubt. The Gunners’ dream start – an Olivier Giroud goal off a fine cross from Theo Walcott – silenced the Allianz Arena and gave them some hope. But they were unable to consistently test Neuer’s net, too often kicking the ball into touch, letting a smart pass evaporate.
Wenger had left several players out in what had seemed like an admission of defeat. Regular keeper Wojciech Szczesny was dropped for the little-used Fabianski; captain Thomas Vermaelen was relegated to the bench. Tomas Rosicky got a rare start, and when the subs were announced, it was Gervinho’s name that was called.
Few could accuse Arsenal of lacking heart and desire, but for a team built on the passing game, it was startling to see how awkward their first touches truly were. While the defense was, at last, far stouter than at any other point during the season, Arsenal lacked the crispness and speed to truly get forward. This seemed a night when a result might have actually been stolen from a jaded Bayern side. But too often, Arsenal’s midfielders were their worst enemies, with Aaron Ramsey and Rosicky in particular making some painful touches.
Sadly, the Gunners don’t seem to have the extra presence required to compete at this level any longer. They lack a big body up top to keep their opponents honest, and there is none of the battling displays in midfield that Patrick Vieira once brought to this side. For all the focus on Arsenal’s slickness in its glory years, there was a strong and uncompromising spine underneath, with players both willing to foul and able to make their presences known.
In the end, Bayern crept into the quarterfinals, where they await an opponent to be discovered early Friday morning. They didn’t do much, but they didn’t have to – they had already made their mark at the Emirates.
"It's very difficult to go out of the Champions League for anybody, especially when you lose at home, you make it difficult for yourself," Wenger told Sky Sports 2 after the match. “My regret from the first game is that we conceded a cheap goal in the last five minutes when we could lose 2-1 at home. You can see how important that goal was tonight."
Elsewhere, Malaga completed the field with a 2-0 home win over Porto in a dire match. Isco scored a fabulous goal to bring Malaga even on aggregate while Roque Santa Cruz got the winner with a header in the 77th minute. It was a rough game, with Porto’s Steven Defour sent off for two yellows. The only consolation? There was no extra time.