Arsenal faced an uphill task as they arrived at the Allianz to face one of the form sides in European football, only one English team had previously won away at Bayern Munich (Norwich*), on top of the above Bayern have been in blistering form in the Bundesliga and Champions League and have a defence that apparently Neuer is getting bored playing behind as he doesn’t have anything to do.
With the injured Wilshere and Podolski and the mentally frayed Szczesny left at home the team that took to the pitch had a pick and mix look to it, was Arsene writing the game off? Many of us feared as much, moreso when we saw Vermaelen had been dropped to the bench. Although Vermaelen has not been in good form he is the Captain and as such if he doesn’t start you can only imagine Wenger is saving him for Swansea on Saturday.
I must admit at 7:45pm I was fearful, Rasp’s words running round my mind, those words about establishing importance of game by team selection (Blackburn home FA Cup for example) and how that then effects the subsequent performance and attitude of the team.
Within three minutes those fears were allayed as some swift passing football saw Santi find Ramsey, who in turn found Rosicky, he picked a pass to the running Theo who drove hard and low across the face of goal, Giroud made the ground at the far post to grab an early lead for the Arsenal. We couldn’t could we?
What followed was a strong and disciplined rear guard action by the back four, unfortunately when we did regain possession we were wasteful, Rosicky showing signs of limited game time with a few wayward passes, Giroud being crowded out, and failure to win the second ball when the defence cleared their lines and Giroud had made a nuisance of himself.
Bayern pressed and probed but the defence stood firm, holding a high line and dropping off when they needed to, perish the thought they seemed organised and with a thou shalt not pass attitude that we probably haven’t seen for some time. Jenkinson was exceptional in defence, the youngster grows every game he plays, he is strong and athletic, a good passer, and most importantly we know every time he takes the pitch we can never question how much it hurts him, he is one of us, he used to sit with us, his Dad still does.
To his left, Mertesacker was marshalling the defence around him, it is games like this when we see how good he is, he may not have blistering pace, or pace at all, but he reads the game better than most and if he knows what the rest of the defence are doing around him he can put himself in the right place at the right time more often than not. Koscielny gave the kind of performance that makes me want to see him start ahead of Vermaelen, he stays on his feet, is quick, and uses both to nick passes off forwards feet before the danger has developed.
Going in at half time 1-0 up stage one of mission impossible was complete.
Could we complete stage two and three?
Unsurprisingly Bayern started the second half much brighter and more purposeful, but our defence stood firm once again and limited Bayern to shots from distance in the main. We also saw a professionalism in our display, taking one for the team in a less threatening area, Arteta, Cazorla and Rosicky all picked up bookings to prevent counter attacks adding to the one picked up by Gibbs in the first half. This isn’t the game Arsene promotes or we the fans want to see but sometimes it is necessary and last night was one of those occasions.
On the one occasion where they did breach the back line, Fabianski saved well whilst the ever energetic Jenkinson made good yardage to pressure the shot.
The difficulty was when would be a good time to score the second, early enough to force Bayern on the front foot and open them up at the back, but late enough that the nerves in the stadium would jangle and put greater pressure on the home team.
Arsene made some changes to force the goal, off came Theo (who had been ineffectual for most of the proceedings) and Ramsey who has in recent weeks begun to answer a number of his critics, and on came Ox and Gerv the Swerve.
Gervinho almost had an immediate impact exchanging a one two with Cazorla he twisted his way into the box but could only stab the ball past the far post, the tiring Giroud was on his heels, and Jenkinson held his head as he knew if he had continued his run he could have had a simple tap in, small margins indeed.
Oxlade-Chamberlain on the other wing also had an immediate impact, Jenkinson seemed to support him more, and the two of them took the fight to Bayern down their left flank. Interplay by the two led to a corner on 86 minutes. Koscielny rose to head home in to the bottom corner and a melee ensued as Arsenal tried to get the ball back to the centre spot quickly.
But it was not to be, Arsenal could not find another goal, the referee saw fit to add only three minutes injury time which came as a huge relief to Bayern supporters and players alike. In the Premier League the set rule is 30 seconds for any game stopping event like substitutions and goals, there were 3 substitutions in the second half, one double by us, and two by them, plus one goal, this gets us to two minutes, then there was the normal play acting and time wasting on restarts that we have become so use to in European football and at any home game at the Emirates. I don’t want to make this about the referee preferring to focus on the positives of our display but he was poor as were his linesman, Nani saw red last week for his chest high kick, Martinez last night saw yellow and there is an argument to say he knew what he was doing and appeared to leave his boot high knowing he would make contact. But should we be surprised? No you’re right we shouldn’t, UEFA hate the fact that Premier League teams monopolised the competition a few years back and Platini will have enjoyed a glass of bordeaux last night safe in the knowledge that his plans have come to fruition.
Fabianksi – 7.5 Dealt with everything thrown at him
Jenkinson – 7.5 Continues to impress in Sagna’s absence, defended well against two of the best wide players in Europe and matched them for speed, stamina and strength
Mertesacker – 8.5 When he plays like this it is hard to see why he gets so much criticism, admittedly he is by no means quick, but he doesn’t need to be if those around him listen to his organisation, 90% of his defending is done in his head. He empowers those around him he doesn’t worry that Jenkinson is young, he gives him the ball and says play, not all of our players do this, they look up see a player they don’t trust and turn away.
Koscielny – 8.5 An unfussy performance that we have come to expect from Laurent, stayed on his feet until absolutely necessary to go to ground, made key interceptions and competed the high ball well.
Gibbs – 7.5 Did his defensive duties first and foremost tonight, could have supported Cazorla more going forward but for his first game back it was important he conserved energy to be used at the right end of the pitch.
Arteta – 7.5 Would have been 8 but for the couple of silly fouls towards the end when we needed to keep the ball in play, other than that he quietly went about his duties in midfield and recycled the ball well. Like Mertesacker makes those around him play better.
Ramsey – 8 I thought this was a very strong performance from Ramsey, whilst some of his passes went astray he did lots of good things, including winning back possession and being available for passes, he has a very good first touch and receives the ball under pressure well.
Cazorla – 7.5 Relatively quiet game from our Spanish maestro, but without the support of Gibbs he was often left 1 v 2 and even for his mercurial talents with the ball at feet it was a big ask.
Walcott – 6.5 Some will say this is harsh as he assisted the goal, but he did very little for the rest of the game, for me he starts his runs too late, in the Premier League he gets away with it due to slower and less intelligent defenders, at this level his runs are found wanting often too late to get on his bike, or running into congested areas.
Rosicky – 6.5 Worked tirelessly but his passing was off target for much of the first half, showing the signs of lack of game time, but at the same time showing that he could be very useful in the run in.
Giroud – 7.5 Worked hard, got on the end of Theo’s cross to put us one up, but tired towards the end and it showed in heavy touches and wayward passes when we needed to keep possession.
Gervinho – 7.5 Bright return to the team for the Swerve, unlucky not to put us 2 up or assist a second.
Oxlade-Chamberlain – 7.5 Showed the pace and purpose we saw at the tail end of last season that has been missing for most of this, maybe the summer Euro’s affected his fitness, or maybe he has found his confidence again. Again will be useful towards seasons end.
Joint Men of the Match – Mertesacker and Koscielny
When you look at the team above it is not full of stars, some would argue that our squad is not full of them anyway, but for much of this season we have said that the team is playing at less than the sum of its parts, last night not so, many would have predicted a hiding in the Allianz having seen the team, but the team showed some fight, courage, and most importantly plenty of discipline.
We may have to accept that we are not going to return to the Champions League next season, and if English teams keep performing badly we could find the Premier League’s coefficient drop so that only two teams from the league qualify automatically and one in the playoffs, this will make it much harder to get back in to it.
Written by Gooner in Exile
*No Chelsea did not win away at Bayern Munich:
1) They drew in normal time and extra time
2) It was a neutral venue