Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Match Review: Arsenal 1 Bayern Munich 3 - Humming a different tune

On reflection the pre-match caution from Bundesliga watchers seems a little silly. On paper, this was very likely to be an away win but such is the respect for Arsenal that it was hard to conceive of a club with such a proud history and European pedigree to allow themselves to get turned over like they this, on grass. At times like this it’s tempting to lay down markers but football is not really like that. There are no blue plaques nailed to the side of football grounds stating “This is where Arsenal became better than ordinary rather than top class.”

Despite their much publicised issues and shrill protestations from the David Dienites, Arsenal still remain a top European club who are just having a below par season. Maybe a change of coach is required, maybe that would be a mistake. One thing is certain: Piers Morgan knows no more than you or me about football.

But teeth gnashing and axe grinding aside this was not a pretty sight for Arsenal fans. Not necessarily because they were blown away in the first half an hour. Bayern are obviously a cut above most teams in Europe this season so getting blown away by them is no disgrace. What was more vexing was that the Gunners seemed unable to sustain enough pressure on their opponents when they obviously took their foot off the gas. After Thomas Müller capitalised after some ordinary corner defense to double Toni Kroos’ cracking opening strike, it looked like things could get Biblical and the Bavarians would rain down some hurt on Arsene Wenger’s players. But as if suddenly stricken with a caution virus, the current Bundesliga leaders dialed down the intensity and looked to contain.

Perhaps coach Jupp Heynkes felt that it was wiser to hold back in the event of getting caught on the ball from a troublesome Jack Wilshere ball from deep to the dangerous, if slightly flaky, Theo Walcott. Or maybe the players, mindful of the speed of the journey they’d traveled in such a short space of time, adopted a conservative stance in order to draw breath. In any event, it kind of backfired after conceding that comedy goal from Lukas Podolski after the Bayern ‘keeper, Manuel Neuer failed to take control in his six yard box.
With the belief that can only come from a jammy goal, Arsenal’s quest for the equaliser was nearly completed thanks to the maligned Olivier Giroud who shot straight at Neuer with a strike which was bizarrely characterised by ITV’s Andy Townsend as too good. With the moment passed and the chance blown, Bayern regained enough composure for Mario Mandžukić to turn in a cross by Phillip Lahm from which even a Grandmother could have scored.
If Bayern can maintain a high tempo for 90 minutes then a third final in four years should be an expectation rather than a hope. Arsenal, on the other hand, may have to reconcile themselves with a period in the relative doldrums for the time being. Those Emirates ticket holders should consider the possibility that the next European game they watch  will start with a different tune.