Bravely and gallantly, Arsenal bowed out of the Champions League at Bayern Munich once again on Tuesday night.
With a 2-0 deficit from the first leg, Arsène Wenger’s side always faced a Herculean task.
They battled on the back foot throughout the first half. Then battled back quickly after conceding a goal from Bastian Schweinsteiger just after the break.
Lukas Podolski’s instant, emphatic reply heralded Arsenal’s best period of the game. They tested a Bayern side that are rated as the best in the world - and have the silverware to prove it.
Let’s be honest, the Champions League holders were superior for much of this evening and had had this tie under their control since the first 15 minutes of the first leg when Wojciech Szczesny was sent off and Toni Kroos put them in the second half at Emirates Stadium.
However, despite their advantage, Bayern never shook off Arsenal throughout the two legs. Even when the hosts got an penalty in injury time Lukasz Fabianski preserved parity by saving with his feet.
Wenger’s side had won here 2-0 in similar circumstances last season and it changed their season. That’s why this draw should not be dismissed.
Bayern are a ruthless side who give nothing away. They went for a win this evening and could not achieve it. That is rare for Pep Guardiola’s side.
Last season, Arsenal’s performance here breathed life into their run-in.
There is no reason why this result could not do the same.
SETTING THE SCENE
Wenger’s team was set up to attack - and that was entirely understandable.
Podolski came in on the left side and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was retained but, this time, in central midfield. Elsewhere Olivier Giroud replaced Yaya Sanogo and Thomas Vermaelen deputised at left back for the injured Kieran Gibbs.
Fabianski kept his place as Szczesny sat out his suspension. Meanwhile Arsenal named only six substitutes. Ryo had been brought in the party but was ruled ineligible to play.
At kick-off it was all eerily familiar. Arsenal had been on this ground, in this round with this deficit a year ago. They had won 2-0 but went out on away goals. Bayern went on to lift the trophy as well as a domestic double.
Since that game, both sides had improved.
Wenger’s men were four points shy of leaders Chelsea rather than seven points off fourth-place Tottenham like last season. Also they were in the FA Cup semi-final rather than smarting from a shock exit to Blackburn.
Bayern’s statistics this term were simply awe-inspiring for football’s mathematicians.
Arsenal could not afford to give them the respect their numbers merited.
The visitors had set the tone for last season’s victory with Giroud’s goal after just three minutes.
This time, Bayern would not be caught cold. The home side began on the offensive and pressed Arsenal into their own third of the pitch. However the partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny had been forged on this ground last season.
They stood firm.
We got the first sniff of a chance in the 19th minute when Franck Ribery reached the left-hand byline and clipped a clever cross to the far post where Arjen Robben bundled a scruffy shot over the bar.
Javi Martinez turned in Thiago’s free-kick but it was ruled out for offside.
Oxlade-Chamberlain had been Arsenal’s brightest attacking hope thus far. On the half-hour, his mazy run was ended illegally by Thiago. Podolski’s free-kick was deflected for a corner. From that, Giroud tested Manuel Neuer with a header.
However Bayern were still dominant in terms of territory, possession and chances created. Eight minutes from the break, Mario Gotze reached the byline and cut the ball back into a crowded area. Robben’s shot was booted off the goal-line by Koscielny.
Just before the half-time whistle, David Alaba’s left-wing cross was nodded down to Gotze, whose snapshot was matched by a sharp, low save by Fabianski.
For Arsenal, the first half had been hard work and played entirely on the back foot.
But they were still in the game.
Mesut Ozil was replaced by Tomas Rosicky at the break, the German had picked up a hamstring injury.
The interval had done nothing to alter the flow of the game. Bayern were still on top, Arsenal were looking to snatch something on the break.
In the 55th minute, the pressure finally told. Ribery cut in from the left and found Schweinsteiger unmarked in the middle. He lifted his shot over Fabianski to put the home side ahead.
The lead would last barely a minute. Podolski held off Phillip Lahm and, with few options in the centre, thumped home a shot from the tightest of angles into the roof of the net.
Seconds later Oxlade-Chamberlain stormed down the left and only Dante’s intervention stopped Giroud sweeping home from the edge of the area.
Arsenal were emboldened by the goal and suddenly found an edge to their game they had struggled to capture for the first hour.
They had to gamble of course but the visitors were turning the odds in their favour and making Bayern nervous at the back.
However the hosts settled themselves and might have settled the tie had Mario Mandzukic touched home Thiago’s cushioned, cross-goal assist from close range. Fabianski’s intervention was timed to perfection.
Gradually and cautiously, Bayern saw out the game. Time ticked on but Arsenal could not kick on.
In injury time, Koscielny was harshly adjudged to have bundled over Robben in the area and Thomas Muller had the chance to win it from the penalty spot.
Fabianski half-saved with his legs and recovered to smother the ball.
Arsenal were out but they went out with their head held high.
Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen (NOR)
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