Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Arsenal beat Bayern Munich 2-0 tonight at the Allianz Arena but it wasn't enough to overcome the 1-3 first leg result and have exited the Champions League. Arsenal needed three clear goals to go through to the quarter finals, a ridiculously tough task against a Bayern side who are having one of the best seasons in their history as well as Arsenal being without some key players like Wilshere, Podolski, Sagna and Szczesny. A goal from Giroud three minutes in got the ball rolling but it took until the 85th minute for Arsenal to score again, from a Koscielny header. The third goal never came and the Gunners exited the competition in the first round yet again.
Despite going out of the Champions League there are plenty of positives to take away from tonight's game. I'll make this quick, so let's run through some of the things I liked this evening:
When I heard Wenger had decided to "rest" Szczesny for tonight's game I was surprised to say the least. Goalkeepers hardly have the hardest job on the pitch stamina-wise so it's not like Szczesny needed the rest on a physical level. But Fabianski came in, his first game of this 2012/13 season, and put in possibly his finest performance in an Arsenal shirt. He was solid for the entire 90 minutes and dealt with everything Bayern threw at him. The Pole was constantly peppered with long range shots by Bayern and he kept it all out. Fabianski looked composed and marshalled the back four effectively too. Yesterday I would have told you his Arsenal career was clearly over. But now? Should we give him another look? Based on tonight's game I think he's earned another chance with us. He looked like a totally different goalkeeper to the Fabianski of old.
The defensive effort
I realise that Bayern had plenty of attempts on goal but I felt overall the entire team defended very well on the whole. The midfield bought into the gameplan tonight and really chipped in with helping out the back four. Considering what we've witnessed the majority of the time this season I thought the defence were outstanding tonight. The only criticism I have is we could have cleared our lines better and were a bit sloppy giving the ball back to Bayern after we'd just won it from them. But I thought the back four of Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gibbs were brilliant. They deserve a lot of praise in blunting that Bayern squad's attack. Coming away from the Allianz with a clean sheet is a feat not accomplished by most teams. I think now is the time Wenger needs to seriously consider leaving Vermaelen out of the first XI for a bit. Koscielny was head and shoulders better than Vermaelen has been all year and I'm sorry, captain or no captain, but the Belgian has not been up to scratch this season. Just give Arteta the armband for the rest of the campaign and let Vermaelen earn his place back in the side. It's such a shame because I adored him not so long ago but he's been so inconsistent since he was handed the captaincy. I think Koscielny and Mertesacker are the way forward from now on, until Thomas can get some form back.
With the news that our midfield engine Jack Wilshere will miss at least three weeks with an ankle problem, I have to admit my head dropped a bit. He's been so incredible since his return from injury that I struggled to see us winning much without Jack in the side, driving the team forward. But the door has opened now for Rosicky to get meaningful minutes and play in his favourite position, to show us what he can do when healthy. The Czech midfielder came back into the team around this time last year and provided that extra spark to push us home at the end of last season. Based on tonight's performance it looks like he's trying to repeat that effort. He didn't do anything too notable tonight but I loved his effort out there. He repeatedly harried the Bayern defenders when they had the ball, chasing them down and pressuring constantly. It kept the German side from settling and I appreciated his hard work for the team. Hopefully Rosicky can build on this performance and steer the team to victory over the next couple of months.
So all in all it's incredibly sad and disappointing to exit the Champions League again but I think every Gooner out there can feel proud with the team and the effort they gave tonight. It wasn't enough overall but a 2-0 win away in Munich is nothing to frown about and should be celebrated.
Thanks for reading.