Arsenal gains morale from Bayern Munch draw, but little else

Tuesday March 11th, 2014

Lukas Podolski gave Arsenal a glimmer of hope with a goal in a draw with Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
Lars Baron/Getty Images

Arsenal went to Munich seeking the impossible. That didn't happen but the club did achieve probably the best it could realistically have hoped for: a decent performance and a draw that might provide the sort of jolt of self-belief that galvanized it last season after a victory in Munich. Back then it took 26 points form its last 10 Premier League matches to pinch fourth place from Tottenham Hotspur. A similar run this season might clinch it the league title. In terms of the specifics of overturning the 2-0 first-leg deficit, though, Arsenal never came close.

Nor was it ever likely to. To put Arsenal's task in perspective, only two sides in the entire history of the Champions League have overturned a first-leg deficit away from home, and none have overturned a two goal margin. And this was no ordinary opponent. Bayern hadn't lost since Arsenal beat it in last season's Champions League. That game, a 2-0 win for Arsenal in Munich after it had lost the first leg 3-1, is the only match in its last 100 in which Bayern has failed to score. So a 1-1 draw was a reasonable return -- albeit with the caveat that if Bayern hadn't been 2-0 up from the first leg it might have played with rather more urgency.

Not that it probably made much difference, but Arsenal was able to name only six of the permitted seven substitutes after it transpired that Ryo Miyaichi, who had travelled with the team, hadn't been included in the Champions League squad. It was a largely academic administrative oversight, but it did seem to sum up the shortages in Arsenal's squad: with Yaya Sanogo injured and Nicklas Bendtner ostracized, it couldn't find a forward to put on the bench.

For those on the pitch, there was a change of shape. Arsenal abandoned its usual 4-2-3-1 for a 4-3-3, with Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain flanking Mikel Arteta, Mesut Ozil wide right and Lukas Podolski on the left. There was never a spell as there had been in the first leg when Arsenal was on top, but it held Bayern impressively in the first half, limiting the German side to a couple of long-range efforts. Arsenal didn't pose much of a threat itself, although in the drive of Oxlade-Chamberlain there was the possibility of danger. Ozil went off at halftime with a strained hamstring, but he again seemed overawed by the opposition, overrun by David Alaba and barely involved in an attacking sense.

LYTTLETON: Costa finishes off AC Milan, sends Atlético Madrid to CCL quarterfinals

The impression was always that Bayern was playing within itself and -- up to a point -- content to run the clock down. Or at least perhaps that was the subconscious feeling among the players. Bayern's passing was slower and less slick than usual, its play tentative and conservative enough to have Pep Guardiola raging on the touchline. It didn't change much after half-time, but one run from Franck Ribery, darting by Bacary Sagna, was enough to create the opener as he rolled the ball square for Bastian Schweinsteiger, who had escaped Cazorla, to finish with great calm.

That clarified Arsenal's task: there was no prospect of scoring twice and taking the tie to extra-time, just a need to score three goals or go out. The first came within three minutes, with Podolski bundling over Philipp Lahm and thumping a fearsome shot past Manuel Neuer from a narrow angle as everybody half-stopped, expecting a whistle. That Podolski had pushed Lahm was clear, but the referee Svein Oddvar Moen, perhaps mindful of an absurd dive by Arjen Robben five minutes earlier and a dreadfully exaggerated tumble by Ribery shortly before that, waved for him to get up in something approaching irritation. One of the very few frustrations with this wonderful Bayern side over the past few years has been the tendency of some of its players to go to ground easily; it wasn't fair on Lahm, but this perhaps was the logical result. Or perhaps Arsene Wenger's comments urging the referee to be strong had had their effect.

In other circumstances, the equalizer might have prompted a surge, but after a brief wobble, Bayern stabilized and Arsenal spent the majority of the last half hour chasing the ball. There was the occasional half-sniff of an opening, bit nothing more. "Maybe we lacked a bit of quality with our final ball," Oxlade-Chamberlain told ITV. "We got in a lot of good positions but we lacked that cutting edge. At the top level you need to be able to do that."

Robben did finally get his penalty in injury time, tumbling dramatically as Laurent Koscielny clipped his heel, but Lukas Fabianksi made a fine save from Thomas Muller to secure a draw Arsenal probably just about deserved. The damage, though, had already been done, both in the first leg and in the final group game, when a sloppy defeat opened up the possibility of facing the European champions in the last 16.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.