The briefest flicker of hope that Arsenal could manifest success this season was vanquished in nine brutal second half minutes, as Bayern ruthlessly exposed the Gunners wounds.
Six attempts to navigate past the first knockout stage in Europe’s premiere competition now looks to extend to seven years, after the Germans efficiently maximised the gaping hole in the Arsenal backline to effectively end the Gunners hopes once again.
With our squad the strongest it has been in many a year, the disappointing nature of our exits in recent years would not hold sway this season. We expected to hold our own against the giants of Munich. We had every right to expect a close battle.
We got just that in the first half. The home side expectedly dominated possession, and were enjoying the home support as they sprayed balls around merrily. Arsenal stuck gamely to their task though. David Ospina was tested early but in the eleventh minute, Arsenal’s cup keeper could do nothing to stop Bayern taking the lead.
Arjen Robben – the winger who comes with a script that all defenders fail to read – cut in and let rip from outside the box. His effort was sumptuous and it arced into the top corner to reward his side for their possession.
The game continued in the same vein. Ancelotti’s side probing and passing and Wenger’s team attempting to break up their play. They slowly became more active on proceedings, and in the thirtieth minute, Arsenal had a precious away goal.
Laurent Koscielny was first to a loose ball after a set-piece, and Mats Hummels attempt to get the ball was a second slower than the French defender. The referee pointed to the spot, and Alexis stepped up to take it.
Alexis had been the architect of Arsenal’s best moments and he struck the penalty low, but Manuel Neuer was equal to it. He parried it out and Alexis was there to at least regain possession. To all it looked as if the chance had been lost, but under pressure, he swivelled to shoot low and into the goal.
A huge goal. This could have swung the tie, and although Bayern had a few chances before half time, Arsenal had done so well to stay with them.
The second half was a different story.
Laurent Koscielny had been a busy man and when he was forced off through injury, the sight of Gabriel taking his place would have sent an ice-cold chill through all Gooners. The Brazilian has a reputation for rashness, and the first nine minutes of his cameo would see Arsenal’s Euro dreams die for another year.
The three goals were not solely on Gabriel’s shoulders I hasten to add, but the facts speak for themselves. Three minutes after coming on, Robert Lewandowski had his customary goal – his 24th in 30 games so far this campaign – by outleaping Shkodran Mustafi who was caught under the leaping Pole.
Another three minutes, and Bayern had three. Lewandowski turned provider, as he dropped off and dragged Gabriel with him. The space left by Gabriel was taken up by Thiago, who ran in unopposed to pick up the striker’s backheel and finish low past Ospina.
Three minutes again passed, and another goal ended all hope. It was Thiago again, and his shot from outside the box came through a throng of players. It took a nick from Granit Xhaka and it hurtled past a stricken David Ospina who had been deceived by the deflection.
The gulf between the sides was apparent now. Bayern had upped the gears and Arsenal looked absolutely shellshocked.
The rest of the half saw the home team look to further embarrass Wenger and his side. Repeated chances came to them, but Ospina was the only man who looked to have any fight left in him.
The painful ending came though, as second half sub Thomas Muller grabbed the fifth which means Arsenal once again need a miracle to escape the Last16. Familiar territory.
Here are some observations from the game which appeared telling:
Our defence needs Koscielny
After Laurent went off, we capitulated. It was perhaps the most emphatic evidence of what he brings to our team. Mustafi looked bewildered without his partner, and Gabriel has shown no improvement from when he first joined. Of course, these are not regular partners, but there can be no excuses after this. At some point, it is just not good enough. Debuchy would’ve been better than Gabriel.
Ozil a passenger
The German playmakers form shows no sign of returning. His touch was errant and his ability to pick out a run was absent again. His effort was there and he ran plenty, but the reason why we bought him is not for his stamina. Worrying signs, and we will need him back to his best if we are to finish above tottenham.
Coquelin and Xhaka were easily bossed.
The central midfield area was dominated by Bayern, and at times the resistance was not present. Xhaka was outnumbered and Coquelin was not at the races. The Frenchman at his best is one of the best ball-winners around, but he is severely limited. Our central midfield options all of a sudden look barren.
Alexis and his sulking
The Chilean was our best player for the majority, but his demanding, gesticulating and tantrums are becoming old and trying on the patience. We understand how he wants to win, how we wants the ball. When it doesn’t happen though, his reactions are not the sign of a player who is happy with things. If we are to progress, he is vital. Can any of us say with any confidence that he will stay after another season of underwhelming results?
This game is where Arsene’s errors came to the fore with no excuses left. The squad is strong, injuries were not a huge factor, and we had home advantage in the second leg. When are we able to expect to challenge with the higher echelons? Arsene may have been let down by his team at times, but a large portion of the pointing finger must fall on Wenger. He looked dejected at the final whistle, but we came up short yet again. Our limitations are there for all to see. It is painful to see, but Wenger must realise that this squad he has selected over the years, is simply underachieving.
I am not writing any more about this game. It feels like a watershed moment. Something has to give. This depressing exit was on the cards before a ball was kicked as we had seen it before. Many times.
Some may blame the board. Some may blame the players and some blame Wenger. Regardless of who is the main culprit – this is not good enough.