There will be much gnashing of teeth and questions of ‘where do we go from here?’ after another defeat. Bayern came, they saw, they conquered. They are, basically, a much better football team than us and it showed last night. Although you can analyse the crap out of the goals and say ‘If we’d just done this’ or ‘X should have done Y’, it seems a bit pointless. We’ve been doing that all season long and it makes not a jot of difference.
The pundits on ITV had a bit of a row about who was to blame for the first goal and I’ve got to agree with Lee Dixon that the centre-halves ended up dropping off, marking nobody and allowing Kroos far too much space to get his shot away. As for the second, there’ll be talk of zonal marking and its ways, but it did illustrate how having players (other than the defenders) who can defend in the air is an important thing. It’s not to put blame on Ramsey for not winning the initial header, but that’s the area from which Olivier Giroud has made many headed clearances this season.
Bayern ought to have been further ahead before the end of the first half, it was too easy for Lahm to cross from the right, Koscielny was dragged towards the near post, Mertesacker was left with two men to deal with so picked neither, and Mandzukic’s header went just wide of the near post. That would certainly have been game over.
As it was we got a little bit of luck with our goal, perhaps deserved because we worked harder and that referee was a bit of a card happy twat, so when he gave us a corner after Cazorla’s shot clearly deflected out off Podolski it felt like something might happen. And so it did. Bayern’s defence has been nigh in impenetrable this season, but they did a jolly good impression of ours by letting a corner bounce in the area. As Neuer came to grab the ball, Podolski was there to nod it into an empty net.
That was something of a lifeline and perhaps one we should have held on to a bit more firmly. I know we were at home, I know there’s pressure to ‘go for it’ and score more, but in our eagerness to do that we left ourselves a bit too exposed at the back. Giroud and Rosicky came on for Podolski and Ramsey and the Frenchman had a good effort from a Walcott cross which was unfortunately straight at the keeper. But Bayern are ruthless, they were happy enough to let us probe then hit us when it’d really hurt.
Cazorla was found wanting as Bayern created an overlap down our left, Vermaelen had two men to deal with, Lahm fired a low cross into the danger zone and between Mandzukic and Sagna the ball looped up and up and in. And that, pretty much, is the goal which makes qualification impossible. It means we have to score three in Munich and that’s not something you’d put a lot of money on (150-1 odds at this moment in time).
I realise when the crowd is urging the team on and there’s an acceptance that we’re more likely to score at home than away, it’s difficult not to try and get an equaliser, but I think it was far more important not to concede another. I don’t necessarily mean sitting back and inviting pressure, we’re just as likely to crack in those circumstances, but a collective awareness that they’ve got to work hard, track runners and not make it easy for Bayern seemed to be missing. Going over there just a goal down would have left it more or less open (if still very difficult), but now it’s hard to see anything other than it being an energy sapping waste of time before a tricky, and far more important, away fixture in the league.
Afterwards, Arsene praised the visitors, saying:
I think we had a good response today, the players gave absolutely everything. We played against a side who have no doubt at all.
Bayern is a quality side who can beat anybody in Europe. On top of that, we lack a bit of confidence, like at the moment. That makes them even better.
And whatever you feel about the team at this moment in time, I think it’s fair to say that this was a defeat brought about by the opposition as much as anything else. It wasn’t classic self-destruct Arsenal. It was Arsenal facing a very, very good side who, in the way they play and the way they attack with ruthlessness, remind me a bit of the Invincibles. They have an aura about them that we had back then. They’re very difficult to beat, they know it, their opponents know it, and we were victims of that last night.
So in itself it’s not a loss that has me tearing my hair out and bemoaning the state of the squad. That’s not to say I don’t think it’s perfect, far from it, but for me the defeat to Blackburn was far more affecting than last night. There’s no real disgrace in being beaten by a fantastic team at the top of their game; there is when you go out of a competition you stand a decent enough chance of winning because you’re too focused on the more difficult match a few days in the future.
Had we played out of our skins last night and got a decent result you could, if you were feeling very generous, have found some logic in what we did last Saturday and the team we put out that day. But it’s hard to imagine we’d have been any worse last night even if the ‘big’ players had been used against Blackburn. It’s old ground, I know. I said plenty in the wake of that game and I stand by it, but it’s hard not to feel even more disappointment on mornings like this.
Baring some kind of miracle in Munich, our season, in silverware terms, is now over. It is February 20th. Yes, we have a lot to play for still, finishing in the top 4 gives us a target, something to ‘achieve’ between now and May, but real success, footballing success, is going to have wait for another 12 months+. We’ll watch the Capital One Cup final with regret, the FA Cup will trundle on without us, and the big boys in Europe will get down to business as we scrap for the right to join them next season.
There are certainly ups and downs in the life of a football club, and supporting that club. As many people will tell you, as downs go this isn’t anywhere near as bad as some, but the frustration comes not simply because of current circumstances, but because of what we could and should be given our stature and resources. Stan Kroenke was there last night, and although he might not know much about the game of football, he surely can’t fail to have noticed the gulf in class between the two teams. He, his board, and Arsene Wenger, need to decide if they’re genuinely serious about winning trophies, and if so, they have to do something more about it than they currently are. Maybe there’s summer splurge planned, there should be.
It was great to hear fans drown out the half-time cat-calls and boos with a rendition of ‘We love you Arsenal, we do’, and as the game drew to a close there was similar support despite the fact people knew how hard we’d made life for ourselves. Fans have to take the rough with the smooth, that’s part and parcel of being a football fan, but the club also has a duty to do its best to avoid the rough. And at the moment we’re shanking too many of our drives into the long stuff.