Last night Arsenal surprised many with a defensively resilient display as they hosted Bayern Munich who had become Europe’s winning machine. Bayern failed to pierce the armour of their opponents for the first time since July.
Last nights action in Group F of the Champions League saw Arsenal take on Bayern Munich at the Emirates Stadium. A must win for Arsenal, after losing their first two matches in the group. Bayern Munich have had a blistering start to the season and came into the match on the back of an eleven match winning streak, not many gave the Gunners much hope, but Arsenal’s new armour has been very effective lately.
The red hot form of Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski had captured most of medias attention. Everyone had assumed his name would be on the scoresheet come the end of the night. Having scored 22 goals in 16 matches for club and country you could excuse them their presumptions.
It was not to be Lewandowski’s night though, or Bayern’s for that matter, despite their 70% possession, they failed to put the ball in the back of the net. Once or twice they thought that they had found a chink in Arsenal’s armour only to be foiled by the man guarding the Arsenal goal, the experienced and reliable Petr Cech.
Petr Cech was called into action multiple times throughout the match and he put in a man of the match display. While this may suggest a leaky Arsenal defence, nothing is further from the truth. Arsenal’s collective defensive display against what is possibly Europe’s greatest team at this moment in time was majorly impressive, especially when you consider it against the contemporary Arsenal stereotype (weak, unorganised defensively, lacking leaders, poor spine).
Arsenal defended like warriors. Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal come in for significant praise after their accomplished displays against Douglas Costa and Thomas Muller. Costa is widely considered the stand out performer in the Bundesliga so far and everyone knows what a wonderful talent Thomas Muller is. These two were so resilient against the two attackers constant forays into their territory and were vital components of Arsenal’s defensive armour.
Xabi Alonso, Bayern’s midfield general was given lots of time on the ball in the middle of the park. Arsenal were almost made to pay early on, when the 33 year old Spaniard rifled a trademark pass from deep in Arsenals half into the feet of Thiago Alcantara on the edge of the box, who played a neat one-two with Thomas Muller and had his shot at goal stopped by Cech. It seemed that sooner or later, Alonso would find the killer pass if Arsenal did not shut him down faster. Minutes later the ex-Liverpool man found Vidal on the edge of the box who’s first touch popped the ball up and his second directed a volley towards the top corner of Arsenals goal, but again Petr Cech was there to palm the ball away from goal and made the save look easy in the end.
Despite Bayern’s dominance Arsenal threatened with various counter attacks throughout the first half. Theo Walcott forced a marvellous save from Manuel Neuer with a header from a precise Nacho Monreal cross. The header seemed bound for the back of the net and the Emirates partially erupted, only for Bayern’s goalkeeper to stretch out a left arm and force the ball back over the line. Arsenal had broke through Bayern’s defensive lines more than once but the big German in-between the sticks showed why he is considered the best in the world.
Bayern carried on dominating possession throughout the second-half but failed to deliver a damaging blow to the heart of Arsenal’s new armour. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertersacker held Lewandowski off effectively throughout the entire match and he was made to look almost average by the two centre-backs.
Eventually Arsenal broke the deadlock through substitute Olivier Giroud, who had come on to replace Theo Walcott with 15 minutes remaining in the game. Finally Mesut Ozil wrapped up the three points in the 93rd minute after some excellent retrieval work by Bellerin, who stormed up the flank and into the box and put the ball on a plate for Ozil, whose effort seemed to be plucked from the goal line by Neuer once again. Fortunately for Ozil and Arsenal the referees assistant had correctly spotted that the ball had crossed the line before Neuer pawed it back.
Giroud’s goal emphasised Arsenal’s alternative approach, a bumbled effort from a deep free-kick is not exactly the type of goal you associate with free-flowing Arsenal, but this was a new approach, a mature Arsenal performance and a worry for all European clubs if Arsenal can team their undoubted talent with such motivated and resilient displays. Arsenal’s defence is also performing well in the premier league with 5 clean sheets and only 7 goals conceded so far. Let’s see if Arsenal’s armour can hold out for the whole season and finally convince the doubters.
I think this Arsenal team has finally grown up, the young men have developed into leaders. You can see it in the desire of Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey, Nacho Monreal and the addition of Petr Cech compliments these emerging characters immensely, his experience and expertise are a priceless thing to have in that dressing room. Everyone at Arsenal appears motivated now, which wasn’t the case in previous seasons. I think if they keep their belief in themselves, but also have pragmatic approaches towards games, which will be Wenger’s responsibility, this Arsenal team can achieve great things.
Images from: The Guardian & Sky Sports