There are victories that have a taste of defeat. There are also defeats that have a taste of victory. In some way, tonight’s match against Bayern was both. For the third time in a row we fell one goal short of creating a sensational progression to the quarter-finals against Barcelona, AC Milan and Bayern respectively. The names of our opponents say a lot about the lack of fortune when it comes to draw for the Knockout Stage since we have played against the strongest possible opponents on last three occasions.
After losing 3:1 at home against one of the best sides in Europe, we were already written off. When Wenger announced Jack Wilshere was out for this game due to an ankle injury as well as Podolski with reports Cazorla, Sczszesny and Walcott would be rested, I was fearful we would suffer one of those horrible defeats Bayern don’t hesitate to hand out. In 2009 Bayern won the first leg at Lisbon against Sporting 5:0 and sealed their way to the quarterfinals with 7:1 mauling at the Allianz Arena.
Luckily, I was very wrong. Reports regarding resting Cazorla and Walcott were just rumours, while Thomas Vermaelen was dropped to the bench in favour of Laurent Koscielny. It was a huge surprise that Wenger decided to go with Fabianski between the sticks given that the Polish goalkeeper didn’t have any action in the Arsenal shirt for more than a year. Tomas Rosicky finally got a first-team place while Kieran Gibbs returned to his left full-back position. Bayern were without a key players in the midfield, Bastian Schweinsteiger and French winger Franck Ribery. Schweinsteiger’s absence was a ray of light for me as his absence is something Bayern have always felt.
It started just like we wanted to. Cazorla and Ramsey prepared the ball for Rosicky who passed it out to the right for Walcott. The English winger sent a low cross on the six-yard-box for Giroud who hammered it into the net to give us promising start. Bayern recovered from the opening shock to make a lot of dangerous attacks. Kroos made a first shot but Fabianski made a good save. Luiz Gustavo and Mueller were next in line to try to score an equalizer but neither of them managed to put it behind excellent Lukasz Fabianski. Although Bayern dominated, they were unable to make a clear-cut chance as our defense looked determined and organized so Bayern could only threaten only from long range. They were rarely hitting the target and when they did, it was Fabianski who didn’t allow them to score. On the other side of the pitch, we were mostly unable to impose our passing game, but Walcott managed to create another chance for Giroud. Walcott went past Alaba and made a low cross to the far post that Giroud didn’t get. The most dangerous attempt from Bayern came after Mueller got the ball from Mertesacker’s clearance and fired a shot in the left corner of our goal. Fabianski saved it but the linesman didn’t show for a corner. Bayern had much more attempts than we did but the goals are the only statistic that matters.
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Bayern applied heavy pressure at the start of the second half. Robben and Mueller had their chances but their shots didn’t force any saves from Fabianski. Luiz Gustavo sent a similar attempt while Robben finally sent something on target but Fabianski pulled another brilliant save. We couldn’t find space to create a chance so Giroud’s senseless volley turned out to be our only attempt before Wenger introduced Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain. When those substitutions happened, Bayern’s back-line was more pressured. Jenkinson made a lovely low cross for Giroud a few minutes later but the Frenchman failed to lay-off for Cazorla who would have had a perfect goal-scoring opportunity. A minute later it was Gervinho who combined with the diminutive Spaniard after cutting inside from the left, made a nice drag-back and took a shot/pass to the middle. Unfortunately, it went wide while Giroud couldn’t poke it into the net.
Mueller made a mess on our left side of the defense again but Fabianski showed safe hands again. Four minutes to go, we scored. Oxlade-Chamberlain earned a corner on the right side of the attack. Cazorla took it and it fell straight into the head of Koscielny who sent it into the net. It was a goal that made Bayern players even more nervous so they obstructed our players from taking the ball from the net. The last attempt of the game was Arteta’s free-kick that ended wide. It was the last opportunity we had to create something. Bayern were very scared for the victory so they obviously wasted time.
Conclusion? We won the match against one of the best (if not the best) teams in Europe. Our defensive game was excellent and in the shape I want to see every week. Hopefully today’s victory won’t inject complacency in our team as we have tough fixture against Swansea this weekend as we must win that game. Arsene Wenger deserves credits as well for his tactics today. His substitutions were good. It seems that he wanted to score every 30 minutes given that he got nervous when 60th minute passed by without our second goal.
on the performance…
We went close and I am very proud of the team. As well I am very disappointed for anyone who follows Arsenal that we could not get that third goal. There was room to score. When you look at the game tonight you have many regrets from the first game. Qualifying is 180 minutes and in the first 90 we were not at our best. I believe that it was very feasible to knock out Bayern. We got that feeling when we watched the first game again. We had a plan that we respected tonight, it went for us on some occasions but at least we have shown that we have the quality to be there.
on the timing of the second goal..
The second goal came too late. But we had a few chances with Gervinho and Cazorla and Giroud missed a pass when he was completely on his own [after] Jenkinson found [him]. We played very high up, we tried to block them and [make them] play through our lines. They defended well and for me they are a defensive side. We lost some balls that we are not used to losing. Honestly I don’t think that we got the fouls. We had not the same opinion as the referee on some situations.
on the defence…
Our defence played well. Mertesacker, Gibbs, Koscielny, Jenkinson and the keeper all had good games. We always looked in control and solid. You cannot restrict a team like Bayern to no chances.
on the early goal…
I was thinking how Bayern would respond to that. Will they panic? Did we just surprise them? Will we be under pressure? They had a good response. We did not create much in the first half. There was more room to create in the second half.
on going out…
It is a bit similar to last year when we missed the first 90 minutes in Milan and nearly qualified with our backs to the wall in the second 90. That is the regret. It is not tonight but the first game at the Emirates. You could see the weight of that third goal.
on performing well with the pressure off…
We were under pressure tonight. A bad performance would have been terrible for the morale of the team and for pride aswell. The regret is that there is potential in the team and we are out.
on leaving out Vermaelen…
I don’t want to explain too much. It is possible he will play at Swansea. We have tomorrow and Friday yet. I have to see how everyone recovers. We rotate a little bit at the back at the moment.
on no English team in the last eight…
It is a massive disappointment for English football. It is a massive wake-up call for us when you think we had Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal all out by the quarter final. It is a long time [since] this happened. It means the rest of European football has caught back on us and we have to take that into consideration when we think about the future of the Prmier League.
on if Fabianski will become No 1…
You are never No 1 forever and you are not on one game as well. He did well and you can only congratulate him.
Jenkinson Mertesacker Koscielny Gibbs
Arteta (c) Ramsey
Lukasz Fabianski | 8.0: Although he has been more than year off our starting line-up, the Polish goalkeeper gave a brilliant performance, which might earn him more chances in the Premiership until the end of the season. Had one mistake during the game – his pass to Mertesacker nearly created problems.
Carl Jenkinson | 8.0: Excellent performance in terms of defensive play. His offensive play was limited until the last 20 minutes due to Wenger’s desire not to lose balance of the team.
Per Mertesacker | 8.0: Perhaps the best performance of the whole season. He did everything a central defender should do – blocked, cleared, organized defense well, tackled bravely. Earned a booking for stopping a dangerous counter-attack. Too bad he went for Cazorla’s pass from the free-kick in the first half with his right foot.
Laurent Koscielny | 8.5: A man of the match performance was rounded with goal that gave us hope that a miracle can happen. Created a problem on one occasion but immediately recovered the ball.
Kieran Gibbs | 7.0: A return to the starting line-up for an Englishman who was visibly lacking match fitness so Mueller and Robben tried a lot on his side and were more often stopped in their attempts by Fabianski than by Gibbs. Still, Gibbs made a wonderful block in one occasion and when Gervinho was introduced, Gibbs found himself on attack on a couple of occasions.
Mikel Arteta | 6.0: Gave away too many fouls. Although some of them were the smart ones, it is obvious that Arteta lacks the ability to take the ball off our opponents clearly.
Aaron Ramsey | 6.0: Was part of the attack that created our first goal. Gave away too many passes, though, and that could have cost us on a few occasions. Bayern were dominating more or less until he was substituted by Gervinho.
Tomas Rosicky | 6.5: Just like Ramsey, Rosicky didn’t have the best night of his life either but still managed to nudge the ball to Walcott before Theo created a goal for Giroud. The Czech maestro also gave a perfect through ball for Walcott in the second half but it was wrongly called offside.
Theo Walcott | 6.5: Created a goal for Giroud and should had scored himself when he was released by Rosicky, but the wrong decision of the linesman took away his chance to scoring. Tried to do something even during the time Bayern dominated. Was surprisingly substituted while we took more risk in chase for second goal.
Santi Cazorla | 7.5: Started the attack that led to our first goal and created the second from the corner. His co-operation with Gervinho came close to final reward. Giroud’s poor ball control denied him a clear opportunity for goal. He can do better, though.
Olivier Giroud | 6.0: Scored an opener to reach 15-goal-mark but wasted a couple of chances that could have gave us complete come-back. In two situations his pace betrayed him, in one it was his composure when he just needed to make a lay-off for Cazorla and in one it was his selfishness that made him take the volley instead of passing the ball to one of his team-mates in much better position which made Arsene Wenger angry.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain | 6.0: Earned a corner after which Koscielny scored. Injected some fresh blood to our attack.
Gervinho | 6.0: Looked lively in his short cameo. Came close to either scoring or assisting but his excellent move wasn’t rewarded with neither.
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