Thursday, 5 November 2015

Gunners put back in their place

Bayern Munich 5-1 Arsenal


Bayern Munich had a point to prove having lost at the Emirates Stadium in their last Champions League outing, and they did just that with an excellent display that put the Gunners firmly back in their place.

Much was made of the wonderful, flowing attacking football displayed by the Germans on Wednesday night. There can be no doubt that Munich are a far better side than Arsenal, but Arsene Wenger’s side didn’t help themselves at the Allianz Arena.
There are those who questioned the manager’s tactics after the game, suggesting that he should have opted for an ultra defensive formation with the likes of Kieran Gibbs on the wing and Flamini alongside Coquelin in the deep lying midfield positions, in the hope of soaking up the pressure and coming away with a point. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and in many ways it is understandable that Wenger elected to start with the attacking talents of Alexis Sanchez, Joel Campbell, Cazorla and Ozil in the hope that as they had done in the first game, Arsenal would be able to pose Munich problems rather than simply concede possession and territory.

However the key component to make this bold decision work, was unfortunately missing from the Arsenal display. For some reason, the players didn’t press the ball high up the pitch as they had done rather successfully in the first game. Instead they sat back, allowing Bayern to enter into the Gunners half unchallenged before attempting, often half heartedly to press the ball. As a result, Arsenal’s attacking players weren’t able to get themselves into the game at all as they were forced deep into their own half and whenever they did have possession, those players who are so effective in the final third, were too far away from the Munich goal to have any impact on the game.

It was a very strange performance. Surely the manager would have stressed to the players in the build up to this game that they would have to press the ball high up the pitch to have any chance of taking anything from this match. Instead it was as though the players were confused, playing a deep lying game, inviting Munich onto them, but not having the defensive minded players to carry out the job.
Time and time again the Arsenal full backs were exposed as Munich were able to spread the ball out wide with ease and then get the ball into the box with minimal pressure placed on them. Even Wenger admitted in the post match press conference that his side’s defensive performance had simply not been good enough. The absence of Koscielny and Bellerin from the back four didn’t help either, as from a defensive point of view, Arsenal had an absolute nightmare.

The first goal in particular was a horror show. A lack of pressure on the ball, allowed Munich to clip a ball into the area and Gabriel inexplicably decided to attempt to play offside inside his own six yard box. The Brazilian got his timing all wrong and as a result, Lewandowski, the most lethal striker in the World at the moment, was allowed a completely free header, right in front of goal, which he of course directed into the bottom corner, despite being off balance. Had Gabriel dropped back to challenge him instead of attempting to catch him offside, the Brazilian could have at least challenged Lewandowski and possibly caused him to miss.

Having conceded so early in the game, Arsenal didn’t really have much hope of getting back into the match, especially when a glimmer of hope, an immediate goal from Ozil was ruled out for handball. Given the flow of the game, it was a case of when not if Munich would score a second. As with the first, a ball into the box caught Arsenal out. As it fell to Mueller, the German appeared to be surrounded by four Arsenal players, but with none of them putting a challenge in, Mueller was able to control and take a shot, with the ball hitting Mertesacker’s knee and flying into the bottom corner. All night long, a frustrating lack of pressure on the ball was a feature of Arsenal’s play. It cost them dear and yet at no point did things change. Just before half time, David Alaba’s long range shot found the top corner of the net to make the score 3-0. It was a wonderful strike, but once again not one player attempted to close him down as the Austrian lined up the long range shot.

Although Arsenal improved slightly in the second period and at times appeared capable of causing Munich problems, the home side had dropped their levels slightly knowing that the game was effectively over. Still they managed to add to the score line. Robben firing home with his first touch after coming on as a substitute and Mueller guiding a shot into the bottom corner right at the end. In between these two strikes, Giroud scored an impressive volley, but it was far too little and too late to have any kind of impact on the match.

Arsenal got it all wrong on Wednesday and paid the consequences. Interestingly, if the Gunners can defeat Dinamo Zagreb at home and Munich beat Olympiacos, then Arsenal will still have qualification in their hands come the final game of the group phase, when they face Olympiacos away. Yet even if they do miraculously qualify from this group, Wednesday night just proved how far off the European elite Arsenal are. It may just turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Gunners to get knocked out at this early stage. Either way, the players must now focus on the North London derby on Sunday. Those players out injured are unlikely to return in time and therefore the players who take to the field need to put the Munich result behind them, learn their lessons from a terrible night and give their all for the club, the shirt and the fans. In such a big game, anything else just will not do.     

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