Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Gunners overcome the odds!

Arsenal 2-0 Bayern Munich


Having lost to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos, Arsenal went into Tuesday night’s game against Bayern Munich with little hope of causing an upset. That is, according to the media. But this is Arsenal Football Club, a club with a rich history of overcoming the odds and emerging victorious.
After all, this is the club that went to Anfield in 1989 without a prayer but won 2-0 to bring back the league title; and this is the club that brought back the European Cup Winners Cup in 1994, having overcome enormous odds to beat Parma 1-0. Tuesday night was just another opportunity to show the footballing world just what this club is capable of.

Many forget that this current Arsenal team have the capabilities to beat any team. As long as they perform with hunger, desire and commitment, few can live with them. Against Bayern Munich the Gunners needed eleven heroic performances and got just that. The Emirates crowd played their part too, from the moment the two teams walked out onto the field of play, the crowd turned the stadium into a sea of red and white and never stopped singing, urging their team on and pushing them to greatness. The atmosphere was just unbelievable, among the best it has ever been at this wonderful stadium.

The architect of it all, Arsene Wenger, had to decide between two schools of thought before the match. Should he set his team up to go all out as they had done against Manchester United but risk the players burning out if they didn’t manage to score early, or should he be pragmatic, allow Bayern to have the possession and hit them on the break? Wenger elected for the second option and was rewarded for it. For such a plan to come to fruition the Gunners needed to be disciplined, to stay tight at the back and restrict Bayern from cutting through them and creating goal scoring opportunities. The entire team defended excellently throughout the game, with Walcott, Sanchez and even Ozil chasing and harrying throughout.

The Arsenal defence were magnificent too. At the heart of the defence Mertesacker and Koscielny stood tall, heading away every ball that came into the box, blocking shots and throwing their bodies on the line. Either side of them, Monreal and Bellerin were outstanding. Monreal restricted Bayern from attacking Arsenal on his flank, while although Douglas Costa caused Bellerin problems at first, the young Spaniard soon found a way to nullify his threat. Bellerin’s surging forward runs also gave the attack added impetus and his hunger and desire right at the end of the game to set up Arsenal’s second of the night, highlighted the whole team’s commitment to the cause.

In front of the defence Coquelin performed his usual screening job with expertise, sniffing out danger time and time again, while Cazorla and Ramsey ran their socks off to help the Gunners in the middle of the park. As a result of the home side’s fantastic work rate, Bayern weren’t able to create chances at will and the few they did create were denied by the excellent Petr Cech, who thwarted Thiago in the first half with a fine reflex save and Lewandowski in the second with an equally brilliant piece of goalkeeping.

Although Bayern did have the lion’s share of possession, with Arsenal ending the game with only 27%, the Gunners looked extremely threatening on the break. In fact they created the better chances and should have taken the lead in the first half, first through Ozil, whose shot was parried away by Neuer and then through Walcott, whose close range header seemed destined for the back of the net, only for the German goalkeeper to pull off a wonder save.
In the second half Bayern did appear to take control of the game as their domination of the ball increased significantly and Arsenal struggled to get out of their own half at times. But the Germans weren’t peppering the Gunners goal with shots or creating numerous chances and as long as the home side kept a clean sheet, they always had a chance of springing a surprise.

That chance arrived in the 77th minute. Arsenal were awarded a free kick and Santi Cazorla delivered the ball into the box. As Koscielny competed for the ball in front of the goalkeeper, he seemed to distract Neuer, who lost the flight of ball. Behind him, Giroud was falling forward and as the ball eluded Neuer it struck Giroud on the head and bounced slowly but surely into the empty net. It seemed to take an age to cross the line, but once it had the Emirates erupted with noise. Those in red and white jumped up and down in ecstasy and at the top of their voices sang/shouted Giroud’s name to the tune of “hey Jude.”

It was game on and Arsenal would need to desperately hang on until the very end. The crowd did their bit, singing louder and louder as the game wore on, pushing their side on. But the expected onslaught never really materialised and Arsenal were not only able to hold on but doubled their lead right at the end of an unbelievable game. With Bayern committing men forward, Bellerin dug deep and surged forward one last time. As he eluded the Bayern defender and entered into the box, he looked up to find Ozil free. The German’s shot was saved by Neuer but the ball had crossed the line and goal was given by the assistant behind the goal, to scenes of sheer jubilation.

This was redemption for Ozil, having missed a penalty against the same opponents two years ago and it was redemption for Arsenal. Their Champions League campaign is now back on track. They still may not qualify from the group but this is a result and a performance that will live long in the memory. To defeat arguably the best team in the world is no mean feat and the squad should take great heart from it. They will be extremely tired having given their all, but they have another big game on Saturday against Everton for which they must rouse themselves for. Wenger must simply advise his team that if they show the same level of commitment and desire they showed against Bayern Munich, they can achieve anything, after all, this is Arsenal Football Club.     

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