Last season’s runners-up, Bayern Munich, took on an English side again in the Champions League. Arsenal were on the back of a disappointing FA Cup exit as the curse of the “B-Teams” continues with Bradford and Blackburn of the Football League knocking them out. Bayern Munich on the other hand sat with a comfortable lead at the top and no goals conceded in 2013 (the last being mid-December).
The Germans were the favourites and it reflected in the result, with Arsenal’s goal quite flattering to them. It ended Arsenal 1-3 Bayern Munich with the German side in a fantastic position to ensure progress into the Quarter Finals. Goals from Kroos, Müller and Mandzukic were enough to see off the home side at the Emirates.
There were not too many surprises in terms of line ups. Wilshere, Cazorla and Walcott all made it into the starting XI after being left out on the weekend in the shock home defeat to Blackburn. Arsenal were without a recognised left-back with injury keeping Gibbs out and Monreal ineligible. Captain Vermealen was played wide in defence.
Juup Heynckes once again opted to start with Mario Mandzukic over the other Mario. Robben too was left on the bench as Bayern went with their tried and tested formation.
Arsenal were motivated to go and win this and came out all guns blazing to do just that. A couple of attacking runs showed that they meant business. But a killer blow came in the 7th minute of the game. Bayern proving just why they are considered to be contenders, and why they have the element to win the Champions League. They didn’t dominate, they weren’t in control but at the hint of an opportunity, they took it with arms wide open. Clinical. And every club needs that in the Champions League.
Bayern’s young sensation Toni Kroos took his chance and scored with the first real shot of the match. It was his first effort on goal and his other effort was on target as well. It was a sensational finish with a half-volley style shot from the edge of the box. A closer and more in-depth look into the goal shows the defensive frailties in the Arsenal side and lack of awareness on the part of the Arsenal players.
Kroos was peeling away from the meddle and no one saw his movement. There were 3 Arsenal players in close proximity, either of which could and should have seen the young German making a move to the edge of the box, instead, they had their eyes peered on the man with the ball. When the ball went out wide to Philip Lahm, the Arsenal players moved into the box. An obvious move but there was no threat in the box. Still no player saw Kroos completely free, even a retreating Cazorla didn’t pick up his run. Only when the ball was perfectly played onto Kroos’ path did the Arsenal players pick up his sneaky movement, it was too late though as the ball sailed past Szczesny.
That goal was scored by Kroos movement but created down the right hand side by captain Philip Lahm. Much of the game was played through that side of the pitch. WhoScored calculated it as 51% of the attack of Bayern coming down that side. It was truly alarming the number of time Lahm was able to receive the ball and flawlessly move forward completely unchallenged. It happened for the first goal, then the second and indeed the third as well. All goals were created by Lahm making runs down the right hand side and not once was he picked up. The London side failed to learn from any of their mistakes, and were rightly punished.
The second goal came from a corner with poor marking, but the corner was one by, you guessed it, Philip Lahm. Arsenal were without a recognised left-back and Vermealen was made to play in that role, which he had done in the past. But more than looking to defend, Vermealen was using this opportunity to move forward, not coming back in time. He was also guilty of too often narrowing the defence, as though he was naturally retreating to his regular role at centre back. This assured up the centre of the pitch and prevented Kroos and Mandzukic enough space to play their game but I doubt this was Wenger’s plan. Vermealen seemed to have a confusion of roles, unable to handle the left-back position, failing to track back and constantly moving into a more central role. You don’t give that much space to Philip Lahm, arguably the best right back in the world (no matter what Dani Alves and FIFA say).
As can be seen in the tactical illustration above, Vermealen was in the centre, while he should have been out wide tracking Lahm. Or at least marking Mandzukic so that Koscielny could go out to close down Lahm. Instead, the Belgian did neither, allowing Lahm to get a low cross in which Koscielny (and not Vermealen) had to deal with. The resulting corner was scrambled in by Müller as the Bundesliga side once again took their chances.
Below is another instance of the space Lahm was given down the right hand side. The score was at 2-1 when the following screen grab was taken. Again, it’s the same errors by the Arsenal players. Lahm has the entire right hand side to himself and no questions are being asked. It was like he had given a “no trespassing” notice. The amount of space was incredible. Arteta preferred to stay centrally as well, but it wasn’t his duty to chase Lahm as he would need to strengthen the central areas preventing the Bayern midfielders to have space there. The duty of marking Lahm was that of, yes- Thomas Vermealen. As can be seen here, he is again in a central position, possibly to cover the space vacated by the right-movement of the Arsenal defense. Either way it once again allowed Lahm acres of space, this time though Kroos didn’t pick his captain out.
The 3rd goal arrived in somewhat similar fashion. It was Lahm’s assist again, and he was given space, this time though it was narrower then before. Robben threaded a ball through to the German full-back who incredibly found space in the box as well. His pass toward Mandzukic deflected, bounced up and somehow lobbed into the Arsenal goal. They don’t come pretty but 3 away goals is a fantastic achievement in the Champions League, enough to ensure progress.
It would be unfair to not throw some praise Arsenal’s way. The entire team was horrible and the lack of character is enough to make any fan hide away in a shell (or jeer in despair). But there was one shining light for the Gunners fans, and it was their own Jack Wilshere. The young English midfielder put in an inspiring shift as he looked to get his team back in the game. His driving runs from midfield proved to be a nuisance for the Bayern defence. He was able to drive at the defenders and get into the box (6 out of 7 attempts). Let down by his balance and first touch, also being crowded out. The Arsenal no.10 even made 4 interceptions in crucial areas to break down Bayern Munich’s play.
Bayern Munich were always the stronger side. This is a team that has scored 57 goals in the Bundesliga, conceding just 7! Podoslki’s goal which was a rare defensive error was the first they have conceded in 2013.
Arsenal were having a poor season and it’s getting worse. With this result quite possible prolonging the trophy drought, Champions League football for next season isn’t a guarantee either.
3 away goals is fantastic to take away to Munich. Arsenal have it all to do at the Allianz Arena. IF I were a betting man, I’d put my house on Bayern seeing it through.