Monday, May 20, 2024

Bayern Munich 1-0 Arsenal: A narrow defeat that told us a lot

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Arsenal’s Champions League run is over after a 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich last night. Mikel Arteta made some changes to his team, starting Takehiro Tomiyasu at left-back, bringing Jorginho back into midfield which pushed Kai Havertz up front, and using Gabriel Martinelli on the left.

Before the game, Bayern made it clear they were going to try and play a counter-attacking game, so it wasn’t a surprise to see them let Arsenal have a lot of the ball early on. Thirteen minutes in, we’d had 70% possession, with a couple of tame efforts from Kane at Martinelli at either end. It was cautious from both sides, understandable with so much at stake.

Despite that, Bayern demonstrated their threat with moments of danger. Leroy Sane got behind Tomiyasu, only for Gabriel to block at the near post, and a break down their left saw Ben White do brilliantly to get back and block what would likely have been a certain goal for Noussair Mazraoui. Jamal Musiala tested Raya with a shot from outside the box, while at the other end Martin Odegaard’s deflected effort had Manuel Neuer scrambling to make a save.

Our best chance of the half, and ultimately of the night, fell for Martinelli in the 31st minute. He took it first time with his left foot, but I think he had more time than he first thought. Could he have taken a touch and gone with his right? Possibly, but I understand why he did what he did. Unfortunately, while on target, it was straight at the keeper.

There were moments in the first half where we got ourselves into good positions, but the combinations around the box just didn’t come off. The final pass to set someone free just wasn’t quite there. Still, I don’t think 0-0 at half-time was bad by any means, and I suspect in their planning for this game, that was an eventuality Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff would have targetted. In a tight European tie away from home, it was a decent position to be in at the break.

The thing is, you need to be able to step it up in the second half when the game becomes just a bit more open, and for the second game running, we were found wanting. I don’t know if the fact Bayern came out of the blocks quickly from half-time played a part, but perhaps it put us on the back foot and we just didn’t have a way to respond. The difference in the two 45s is obvious. The first was pretty even, they had 4 shots to our 7, but in the second we could only muster 2 efforts to their 11.

Almost straight away they hit the bar with a header from Goretzka and then the post with a follow up shot. That initial effort was a warning, a player running from deep to get on the end of a cross. There was almost another mix-up between Gabriel and Raya, it cost us a corner, and the pressure felt like it was mounting. Then, in the 63rd minute, the fatal blow.

It began with something we didn’t see enough from Arsenal, a midfield player driving through the lines to open up space. Konrad Laimer’s burst saw Bayern get down their right, Sane crossed, it went over the far post, Gurreiro clipped it back in and Kimmich, who had been involved the in the move earlier, ran off Martinelli to thump home a header. Martinelli’s defensive work all night to help Tomiyasu was excellent (he had tracked Sane’s run all the way), but just a moment where he was caught on his heels was enough for Bayern to get the goal.

Arteta responded by putting on Gabriel Jesus and Leandro Trossard for Martinelli and Jorginho, but it made little difference. We just couldn’t find a way to hurt them. There are things we could laser focus on this morning if we really want. Trossard not putting a late free kick into the box when we had sent the big men up; the Odegaard shot which should have been an Arsenal corner but was given as a goal kick; Saka’s terrible late corner which didn’t make it beyond the near post.

But those are very much in the ‘what if?!’ category for me. It’s possible we could have made more of them, but that we didn’t summed up our night. It was somewhat chastening, really. Much has been made of the benefit of experience in the Champions League, and without making any excuses, I think that was true last night – as it was in the Porto game too. On that occasion we had just enough quality to deal with it, last night Bayern showed us we still have some way to go.

Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:

Obviously very sad and disappointed with the final result. It was a tie of very small margins – in the first leg, we conceded two very poor goals and that has a big effect in the tie. We were still alive, came here and I’m really proud of the players, how they stood up, the way they tried to play, what they tried to do, especially in the first half. It was a game that you could see either an error or an individual or magic moment that would decide the tie. The margins are so small. We didn’t defend our box well at all in that action and we ended up not having enough to score a goal.

He also made a point which I think is key when we analyse this game, and the performance over two legs:

We haven’t played in the competition for seven years, and we haven’t been in this position for 14 years. There’s a reason for it, and we want to do everything. Fast forward, super quick in one season and after we had the capacity and the quality to be in the semi-final, because the margins have been very small. But those margins sometimes are coming from something else, that maybe we don’t have yet.

For me, last night wasn’t about lack of effort, or players not trying. I think they gave it a good go, and while the second half was frustratingly limp, in my opinion it’s more about the quality than the application. In the first half, it was easy to imagine a more dynamic central midfield, for example – with all due respect to Jorginho. I looked at what Musiala did at times, driving through challenges and opening up space, and I could easily make room for that kind of player at the club (like they grow on trees, but you know what I mean).

As the second half went on, it became fairly obvious from the way the game was going that our best chance of scoring was either from a set-piece (inherently dangerous), or from someone doing something special – but we don’t really have that kind of individual in the team or the squad. Arteta spoke about needing magic moments at this level, but realistically who can provide that? Our three centre-forward options are Jesus, Eddie Nketiah and Havertz – there’s very obviously room to add someone in that area.

Again, with all due respect, throwing on Eddie to try get a goal is a Hail Mary above all else. A player with 1 goal in his last 23 appearances is unlikely to save you in a Champions League quarter-final tie away against a team like Bayern. Harsh? Perhaps. But true. And beyond that, when you think about how you might react to this kind of situation in a game of this magnitude, you look at the bench and if players like Thomas Partey, Emile Smith Rowe, Reiss Nelson and Fabio Vieira aren’t considered good enough for this level, not even for a few minutes when you desperately need a goal, then you have to be ruthless and upgrade as many of them as you can.

So, when Arteta talks about what we don’t have yet, I understand it, but it’s now incumbent on him and Edu etc, to address that in the summer. I don’t think going out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage is a disgrace or anything like that – look at the teams who exited this week – but it still feels like a missed opportunity, especially when you replay the first leg in your mind.

It is vital we learn from it though, and the reality of games like this against opposition of this quality and experience, is that they often tell you what you’re missing. I think we saw that quite clearly last night – not least because what you’re missing places huge physical demands on the players who are at the right level, which then impacts their ability to contribute because you lean too heavily on them.

This week, we looked like a team that ran out of gas, and there are reasons for that. We have players in key positions who have to play all the time because the manager doesn’t believe or trust in the alternatives. I still firmly believe we are making progress and improving, but we can’t ignore things we can all see.

Right, I’m going to leave it there for now. We’ll have half an Arsecast Extra for you in a little while. We’ll do part 1, but because James is in Munich and has to do hotel/airport stuff, we won’t do questions today.

That should be out around 10.30am. Until then.

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