Arsenal finally put to bed their Champions League demons last night with a win of seemingly season-defining proportions. Bayern Munich had almost 70 percent ball possession, but it was the Gunners who had the last laugh after two late goals secured their first win of the season in the Champions League.
The game took designs of a battle between Arsenal’s counter-attack and Bayern’s possession-based football, but by the time Olivier Giroud capitalised on a Manuel Neuer mistake in the final quarter-hour, Arsenal’s plan had altered. Theo Walcott, who led the line excellently, was replaced by the Frenchman Giroud and Alexis Sanchez was soon to be taken off.
Bayern were beaten for the first time at the Emirates Stadium, and most of the credit must go to Arsenal’s defensive discipline. The Gunners have now gone three games without conceding after letting in five goals against relatively weaker opponents Leicester City and Olympiacos last month; their compactness off the ball yesterday kept Bayern, who had until yesterday scored the most goals in the group stages, at bay.
Centre-back Per Mertesacker had a job in his hands when he was tasked with keeping the free-scoring Robert Lewandowski in check, and did it with little fuss. The big German along with his defensive partner Laurent Koscielny were rocks at the back; they laid the foundations for Arsenal to score those late goals.
“Yeah, it [defensive mindset] was better. They can create a lot of chances when you press too high. They can come out of dangerous situations so we tried it the other way, stayed more compact in our own half and it worked out completely. We got them on the break we had good counter-attacks, great chances and kept a clean sheet over 90 minutes, which is a good sign against this Munich side,” said the elated Mertesacker after the game.
Manager Arsene Wenger, too, opened up on his side’s compact shape and defensive discipline to counter Bayern’s possession game. “I thought when we played very high up we stopped them from playing. When we were playing halfway they opened us up too much so I decided to drop Ozil a bit deeper and to make it tight around the box and catch them on the break because we have the pace to do it and to find some space with the game going on,” added Wenger.
Captain Santi Cazorla’s floated free-kick resulted in Arsenal’s first goal, and the Spaniard also talked up the way his team kept their compact shape and defended together. “We had to play close today because they had the ball, they have very good players and we had to defend together. After we counter-attacked and the whole team gave a great performance, which is a best thing,” Cazorla said.
Petr Cech made two fine saves to deny Thiago and Lewandowski in the opening and final stages respectively, and the Czech stopper, who made his European debut for the Gunners, also hailed his team’s defensive discipline. “They [Bayern] used the ball really well and opened up space so we had to be very disciplined and organised which is not easy at times but I think we have done remarkably well.”
With Arsenal used to treat the ball well and play open, expansive football with it, there were concerns about how they would adjust to Bayern’s ball-hungry approach. With their pace on the break to make the most of, the Gunners were content with keeping their shape in their own half. And when Bayern brought on the legs of Rafinha and Joshua Kimmich for Arturo Vidal and Xabi Alonso, Arsenal sensed the tiredness in Bayern’s ranks and went for the kill.
Last night was a great exemplar of how to manage a 90-minute European tie, and with the game assuming must-win dimensions for the Gunners, they showed how it is done. Arsenal find themselves third in the group now, with three points from three games. With three more games to play, including the return fixture at Allianz Arena, chances of them qualifying through to the knockout rounds have increased.
Qualification is still some way off, and the immediate job at hand is Saturday’s Premier League clash with Everton. While playing at the highest level certainly takes a toll on the players, as with the hamstring injury suffered by Aaron Ramsey last night, the Gunners’ new-found defensive solidity will stand them in good stead over the course of the season. Keeping clean sheets is a good habit, and Arsenal are developing a good habit.
— According to Spanish sources Fichajes, Real Madrid’s attacking midfielder Isco is top of Wenger’s January wish-list.The Spaniard has started in seven of Real Madrid’s eight league games this season, and has created the second highest number of chances (16) this season. Suggestions that he is unwanted at Real Madrid seem far-fetched, so are the Arsenal links. His contract runs until the summer of 2018.
— Arsenal have a new competitor in the race to sign Sevilla midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak with Manchester City interested in the £21m Pole, the Telegraph has reported.