By Richard Clarke at the Allianz Arena
Arsenal bowed out of the Champions League with their heads held high on Wednesday night.
Arsène Wenger’s side produced a wonderfully spirited performance to triumph 2-0 at Bayern Munich.
However, having won 3-1 at Emirates Stadium in the first leg of this last-16 tie, the German side went through.
The nature of Bayern’s performance, and their superb domestic form, had prompted Wenger to be asked if this was “mission impossible” for his side in the pre-amtch press conference.
In fact, they very nearly pulled it off.
Olivier Giroud stabbed home Theo Walcott’s cross in the third minute and Laurent Koscielny plundered a header five minutes from time.
Inbetween those strikes, Bayern had been on top but it took them until the second half to really test Lukas Fabianski. When called upon, the recalled goalkeeper pulled off a couple of superb saves.
In injury time, Bayern, who had won their last 11 games and were unbeaten since October 28, were playing out time in the corners.
Arsenal are out but they did themselves proud this evening.
Before kick off, Wenger made four changes to the side narrowly beaten by Tottenham 10 days ago. Jack Wilshere (ankle), Nacho Monreal (ineligible) and Wojciech Szczesny (rested) were left back in London so Tomas Rosicky, the fit-again Kieran Gibbs and Lukasz Fabianski, making his first start in a year, came in.
Thomas Vermaelen was benched so Koscielny was alongside Per Mertesacker.
The Allianz Arena is an impressive stadium and, this season, it has played host to an impressive side. Jupp Heynckes’ men were set to secure the quickest Bundesliga title in history.
Trailing 3-1 with away goals against them, the visitors had it all to do.
Pre-match, Wenger said that Arsenal’s flickering hopes would hinge on an early goal. It had happened last year in the so-near-so-far comeback against Milan when Koscielny scored after seven minutes.
This time, it took just three.
Aaron Ramsey darted forward and Tomas Rosicky fed Walcott on the right. The Englishman arrowed a low cross to the far post where Giroud gleefully slid a shot into the roof of the net.
The Arsenal fans were just below the roof of the opposite stand. They went wild.
Bayern took time to recover but they gradually assumed control.
Fabianski saved well from Toni Kroos and Luiz Gustavo fired over wastefully from a corner. The former again tested the Arsenal keeper from range as the home side fully found their feet.
The visitors were showing enough on the break to concern Bayern.
But as the half-hour approached, the Bundesliga leaders were still attacking with menace. Robben fizzed a cross-shot beyond the far post while Thomas Muller fired into the side netting.
Walcott nearly found Giroud again in a replica move to the goal as Arsenal gained the refuge of half-time with their lead intact.
Of course, Bayern still held a mighty advantage and had pushed Arsenal back since the early goal. But, crucially, they had not created a clear-cut chance on Fabianski’s goal.
The home side were more direct after the restart. Robben’s deflected shot drifted just wide and Kross, ever-willing to shot from range, bounced a shot off the stanchion from 25 yards.
The game was becoming stretched. Arsenal were leading but still chasing goals; Bayern were looking to find the net to prevent any late nerves.
Gustavo curled an effort inches wide midway through the second half and, seconds later, Kroos thumped wide.
Bayern were now turning the screw and they should have gone level after 66 minutes. Robben was released by a wonderful backflick from Muller. The former Chelsea winger sprinted straight for the Arsenal goal and fired towards the near post, but Fabianski pulled off a wonderful reaction save.
That chance prompted Wenger to switch Ramsey and Walcott for Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho.
The changes were designed to put Arsenal on the front foot and they worked. Jenkinson’s cross was nearly converted by Giroud and then, in the 78th minute, Cazorla fed Gervinho and he trickled a shot agonisingly wide.
Fabianski saved well from Muller again but five minutes from time, Arsenal scored again.
Cazorla drifted over a corner and Koscielny squeezed home a header at the near post.
The game became manic but, in fact, there was no fairy tale ending this evening.
Bayern held off Arsenal in the closing minutes but Wenger’s side showed a spirit that does them credit and, most importantly, bodes well for the final games of the Premier League season.
Referee: Pavel Kralovec (CZE)
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