Bayern send Arsenal to brink of Champions League exit after Wojciech Szczesny’s red card
Arsenal 0 Bayern Munich 2: For the second time in a week a Premier League club was pitted against the best in the Champions League with a man short, and once again, the consequences were dire.
Wenger disagreed with the decision although his claims that Szczesny “went genuinely for the ball” did not tally with the criteria the referee has to apply.
As for Pep Guardiola, he was impervious to any suggestion that the referee Rizzoli might have got it wrong and contemptuous of Wenger’s suggestion that Robben made the most of it after Szczesny’s challenge. The Bayern coach had a defensiveness about him afterwards, railing against those who might challenge the referee’s interpretation.
Blame must also rest on the shoulder of Mesut Ozil who missed an early penalty for Arsenal when they were buoyant. David Alaba did the same after Szczesny’s red card but Bayern came back to punish Arsenal in the second half with the first goal from Toni Kroos before Muller turned the screw. The penalty was Arsenal’s moment to take control of the game after a thrilling start, and Ozil blew it.
Later Wenger admitted that the miss knocked Ozil’s composure for the rest of the game, “a huge impact on his performance”, yet he never took the opportunity to substitute him. Ozil had won the penalty himself on eight minutes when Jack Wilshere’s brilliant ball down the left channel had found the German. He had deceived Boateng by cutting back inside him and inviting a clumsy challenge.
With the ball at the feet of their No 11, and a thousand camera phones in the stands primed to catch the moment, what could possibly go wrong for Arsenal? The problem for Ozil was that he allowed himself to be, subconsciously it seemed, dictated to by his Germany team-mate Manuel Neuer. The Bayern goalkeeper drew him to the left side of the goal and then reached out one of those big mitts to bat the ball away.
Ozil punched the air in frustration and, as Wenger himself later noted, still seemed to be stewing on it ten minutes later. It was a compelling first half, notable for the two missed penalties and the sending off, but there was plenty more besides to take in – not least the start that Arsenal made to the game.
They were excellent in those first ten minutes with Yaya Sanogo retaining his place in the starting XI from the FA Cup win over Liverpool on Sunday. His first sight of goal was created down the right by Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere who cut through Bayern before the visitors had a chance to settle.
A minute later Cazorla was breaking down the right channel and in on goal, although he spoiled it with a weak shot. Certainly that sequence of attacks that had promised so much for Arsenal came to an end after Ozil’s penalty miss and it was not until another 15 minutes had passed that they managed another chance. This time when Sanogo’s good work in the centre sent the lively Oxlade-Chamberlain free down the right and Neuer was forced off his line to deal with the danger.
Boateng had been booked for the foul that gave away the penalty and should have been shown a second yellow for another foul on Wilshere later in the half but the referee from Italy, Rizzoli, managed to convince himself otherwise.
Shortly afterwards, Kieran Gibbs came off with an unspecified injury and was replaced by Nacho Monreal. Significant given that Bayern were so dangerous down Arsenal’s left with Philipp Lahm and Robben combining throughout the game to cause problems.
In the end, the move that earned the penalty, and Szczesny a red card, emanated from Kroos in the centre. He chipped a well-judged ball over Arsenal’s flat back line which Robben touched past Szczesny before the goalkeeper collided with the Dutchman. The decision facing referee Rizzoli was whether he had denied an obvious goalscoring opportunity. The foul in itself merited no more than a booking.
It looked like Robben would not reach the ball, and that anyway Bacary Sagna was in a position to cover. But no matter, Szczesny went off – with a wanker gesture by the tunnel his final verdict on proceedings – and Lukasz Fabianski came on at the expense of Cazorla. With four German outfield players for Bayern on the pitch, it was an Austrian, Alaba, who took responsibility. His penalty clipped the base of the post and went wide.
What fresh pain could Guardiola devise in the second half for the ten men of Arsenal? He substituted Boateng at half-time, a wise move if only for his vulnerability to a second yellow card. Bayern settled into a 4-2-3-1 formation with Lahm now one of the two holding midfielders and pulling the strings for his side.
Given that Arsenal conceded within ten minutes of the second half beginning, roughly equivalent to the time that Martin Demichelis pulled down Lionel Messi on Tuesday night, they did well not to cave in after that. The goal was stroked home from that majestic right foot of Kroos who took a ball in from the right and curled the ball past Fabianski and into his near top corner.
Arsenal were under pressure down their left side for much of the second half. They left Sanogo to plough a lonely furrow up front and switched to a 4-4-1 formation with Ozil forced to cover the left and, eventually, Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced with Tomas Rosicky. It was dispiriting work with the knowledge that another Bayern goal would be disastrous and little hope of laying a glove on the Germans at the other end
Muller headed in the second from Lahm’s cross as Arsenal tired. Kroos hit the post later so it could have been worse, but it already looks very bleak for Wenger’s team.
Arsenal (4-1-4-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs (Monreal, 32); Flamini; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Rosicky, 75, Ozil, Wilshere, Cazorla (Fabianski, 39); Sanogo.
Bayern Munich(4-3-3): Neuer; Lahm, Boateng (Rafinha, 45), Dante, Alaba; Martinez (Rafinha, ht), Alcantara (Pizarro, 78), Kroos; Robben, Mandzukic (Muller, 64), Gotze.
Bayern Munich: Boateng, Mandzukic
Arsenal: Sanogo, Rosicky
Sent off: Szczesny
Man of the match: Lahm (Bayern)
Match Rating: 6/10
Belfast Telegraph Digital