I fancy that you’ll experience plenty of déjà vu while reading this. Arsenal are, if nothing else, the picture of consistency. Arsene Wenger urged his team to be stout in defence and believe that they could take a good result back to the Emirates. But as expected, it all fell on deaf ears.
If his team were fired up to win the game it certainly didn’t show. Bayern dominated proceedings from the very beginning. Alexis and Ozil, paired up once more as a dynamic, match-changing duo, charged down Bayern’s centre backs but weren’t backed up by the rest of the team. Hummels and Martinez found it easy to draw the pair out and play passed beyond them into their midfield. Thiago and Alonso ran the game and it was clear Arsenal had no real plan to combat the Spanish duo.
With all the control in the world, Bayern were able to exploit Arsenal’s weak left hand side. Lahm, retiring at the end of the season, and Robben, now 33 years of age, combined with precision and nous. Neither Gibbs or Iwobi knew how to cope, which highlighted the strange decision for Wenger to go with his second-choice left back and a young player on that flank. Choosing players to deal with certain threats is a concept beyond him, apparently.
The opening goal for Bayern duly arrived. Arjen Robben has made a career out of cutting inside onto his left and whipping the ball into the top corner. Somehow Coquelin wasn’t aware of this. The Frenchman showed Robben inside, then took a step to his left while Robben continued to go right. The space opened up and the Dutch winger stuck it right in the top corner with practiced ease. The finish was phenomenal, but Arsenal invited him to do it.
It was looking like a long night for Arsenal. A goal down inside 20 minutes, only 19% of the ball and not even getting close to Bayern. But Bayern were generous enough to allow us a way back into the game. A rare Arsenal corner saw Lewandowski foul Koscielny and grant them a penalty. Alexis stepped up and I knew he was going to miss, given his poor record from the spot. As expected, Neuer saved the penalty. Alexis missed the rebound, but somehow gathered the ball and got a shot away through a crowd of players. It nestled into the far corner and suddenly things were looking okay for Arsenal.
The goal gave them the confidence to take Bayern on. We created two more good opportunities by the half’s end. Xhaka met Oxlade-Chamberlain’s clever cut back with a sweet strike but fired it straight at Neuer. Then Alexis slipped Ozil in behind but the angle proved too tight. It was encouraging to see, though. Maybe Arsenal would continue this in the second half and really give Bayern something to worry about.
Well, about that. Koscielny pulled his hamstring and had to replaced by Gabriel. It was an omen. Lahm and Robben combined again to set-up Lewandowski to rise above a lead-footed Mustafi and head past Ospina. It took just six minutes for Bayern to strike again. The ball was fired into Lewandowski, who had sucked Gabriel out of position, and he flicked it in behind to find the run of Thiago. He slotted past Ospina for 3-1. Just like that, any hopes we had for the tie were gone. A single injury sparked a capitulation.
From that point, you never felt that Arsenal would get it together and find a way back into the game. They looked confused and lost yet again in a big away game. Bayern kept coming at us. Ospina had to make some stunning saves but even he was made to look silly when Thiago’s shot deflected in off Xhaka. It had all gone to hell.
Such was Bayern’s dominance that they were able to send on Thomas Muller and get him a much-needed goal. Thiago passed up the chance of a hat-trick to lay it on a plate for Muller. The German skipped past one challenge, finished with left then savoured the feeling of finally scoring again. 5-1 it ended.
The cautious optimism before the game proved misplaced. Bayern demonstrated that they can still put poor teams to the sword regardless of their form. Make no mistake, Arsenal are a very poor team. They looked like a side that didn’t believe they could win. They had no particular game plan besides sit back and attempt to soak up pressure, nor any idea how to respond when that plan went awry. Whatever defensive solidity they had deserted them the moment Koscielny left the pitch. Scared, spineless, passive, and so on. Take your pick of adjectives. Most of them apply.
As it was against Chelsea, there’s only so many times you can get angry at these performances before the apathy kicks in. Arsenal being a poor team at this level is no revelation. It’s an expectation more than anything. Wenger can’t get this team inspired even for the biggest of games and that, of all his faults, is surely the most telling.
In any case, wherever you stand on Arsene Wenger we still have three months of the season to play. I’m not foreseeing many fun times but we have to get behind the team. There’s still an FA Cup to play for, even if it’s just a tiny piece of silver that would barely light up the season. We’re in a scrap for the top four places as well. There are big games to come against Liverpool, Spurs, City and United. I don’t know where it’ll come from, but the team have to pull some form and confidence from somewhere before this season goes more wrong than it already has.