Bayern Munich beats Arsenal in Champions League
Bayern Munich seized on the uncertainty sweeping through Arsenal to claim a 3-1 victory in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 match on Tuesday, virtually booking the German side a place in the quarterfinals.
Goals by Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller in the opening 21 minutes did the early damage for Bayern - a beaten finalist in two of the last three years - before Mario Mandzukic sealed victory with a bundled third in the 77th.
Former Bayern forward Lukas Podolski had given Arsenal hope by making it 2-1 in the 55th but Bayern was well worth the win, and should have scored more in an embarrassingly one-sided first half where the visitors cut through their defensively inept opponents at will.
The second leg is in Germany on March 13.
Bayern has reacted superbly to the trauma of losing last season's final at Chelsea on penalties at its own Allianz Arena, surging into a 15-point lead in the Bundesliga and qualifying easily from its Champions League group.
Coach Jupp Heynckes has even labeled the team the best in Bayern's history, and it showed why against an Arsenal side in the midst of the most trying season of Arsene Wenger's 17-year reign. Winning the Champions League is the English club's last chance of ending an eight-season trophy drought.
Defensively, Arsenal was a mess, with center backs Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny looking like accidents waiting to happen. The first goal sprung from their lax inter-passing in front of their own penalty box, with Bayern collecting a rushed, errant clearance from Koscielny before Mueller crossed for Kroos to crash home a volley that skidded off the turf and into the net from 18 yards (meters).
Mueller then benefited from more hesitant defending for the second, the lanky forward on hand to poke the ball high into an unguarded net after goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny parried out a header from an unmarked Daniel Van Buyten.
With Kroos, Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger dominating midfield with their hulking presence and Arsenal's passing awry all over the pitch, Bayern was in cruise control with barely a quarter of the match gone and its record of not conceding in 2013 wasn't looking in danger of ending.
Theo Walcott started as the lone striker for the hosts but he received little service in the first half, unlike opposite number Mandzukic, who headed just wide on the stroke of halftime from Philipp Lahm's right-wing cross.
Arsenal's players were losing their heads - Bacary Sagna and Mikel Arteta picked up petulant bookings - and they were jeered off at halftime as Bayern supporters belted out another rendition of "Football's Coming Home'' in English. Home manager Arsene Wenger, who was tetchy throughout his pre-match press conference, had the look of a beaten man.
Things looked up at the start of the second half, though, and Podolski capped a period of gentle Arsenal pressure by heading into an empty net after Jack Wilshere's inswinging corner evaded a raft of players in the six-yard box - including flapping Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
Wilshere was finally making his presence felt and Bayern's early spark faded as Arsenal monopolized possession. Olivier Giroud, on as a 71st-minute substitute, shot straight at Neuer in Arsenal's other good chance.
However, Bayern had the last laugh when Mandzukic finished a sweeping move by bundling in Lahm's low cross at the far post, the ball looping up off the Croatian's heel and beyond Szczesny.