By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal breathed new life into their Champions League campaign with a thrilling, hard-fought victory against Bayern Munich on Tuesday night. Having lost their opening two fixtures, the Gunners were up against it and knew that three points were needed if they were to stand a chance of progression. But in a game of real ebb and flow, it was the visitors who started on the front foot as Robert Lewandowski raced through on goal only for Hector Bellerin to get a foot in at just the right moment. The hosts came straight back, with Mesut Ozil going close before Petr Cech denied Thiago Alcantara and later Arturo Vidal as Pep Guardiola’s side piled on the pressure.
But the Gunners remained a danger on the counter, and Theo Walcott looked certain to open the scoring from close range only to be denied by a sprawling Manuel Neuer save. Bayern made a bright start to the second period, with the lively Douglas Costa and Lewandowski both going close in quick succession. Arsenal’s resolve did not waver though, and they were rewarded for their persistence in the 77th minute when Olivier Giroud bundled the ball in from Santi Cazorla’s free kick. It was a scrappy goal - but no one inside a buoyant Emirates Stadium cared one bit as a tense finale ensued. But right at the end, the Gunners made sure of a huge victory when Bellerin did brilliantly to set up Ozil to fire the ball over the line from close range.
SETTING THE SCENE
The task facing Arsenal prior to kick off was a sizeable one: not only did they need a win to boost their chances of progression but they had to do it against a Bayern side in red-hot form. The German giants had won their last 12 fixtures prior to the trip to north London, scoring 39 goals and conceding just five in the process. Not only that, but they boasted world football’s most electric striker in Lewandowski, who had 22 goals in 16 appearances. But, having hit their straps themselves in recent weeks, you could detect a quiet confidence in the Gunners camp in the build-up to a game that could revive their European campaign. Wenger saw no reason to change his side from the one that had eased past Watford three days earlier, placing his faith in the same starting XI for the visit of the Bundesliga champions. Alexis - with 10 goals in his previous six outings for club and country - would lead the attacking charge with Walcott, while young goalkeeper Matt Macey was on the bench in place of the injured David Ospina.
The danger Arsenal faced was spelt out within 40 seconds when Lewandowski raced through on goal, only for Bellerin to dispossess him in the area as he shaped to shoot. It was a real let-off for the hosts, but they responded brightly and fashioned a good chance minutes later when Alexis fed Ozil, only for Neuer to palm the German’s low shot away. There was a real zip to the game, and soon Bayern were back on the front foot with Cech having to make a sharp shot to deny Thiago. The Gunners were having to soak up waves of pressure from the visitors, who were playing with all the swagger and confidence of a side yet to taste defeat this season. But for all their possession and territorial dominance, Guardiola’s side struggled to make any headway against a disciplined Arsenal rearguard that was determined to shut out their free-scoring opponents. Cech was again called into action on the half-hour mark to push away Vidal’s effort, and within a minute the Gunners came forward again, with Walcott twisting and turning in the area before screwing his shot over. Suddenly the mood changed inside Emirates Stadium, and the volume rose accordingly. Alexis had a golden chance to put the hosts ahead when he pounced on a half-cleared corner, but he snatched at his shot and fired it over the bar. But the force was with Wenger’s side, and they would have taken the lead moments later but for Neuer making an stunning save to deny Walcott from close range, with Aaron Ramsey firing the rebound across the face of goal. It was a thrilling end to a finely-poised first half, and one that gave the Gunners plenty of encouragement ahead of the second period.
Costa had been a constant danger in the first half and he continued to threaten after the restart, firstly forcing Laurent Koscielny into a sharp block and then firing inches over the bar from the edge of the area. Bayern had their tails up and Cech was forced into another brilliant save to tip Lewandowski’s fierce drive over the bar, before getting down to hold a low Costa effort from the resulting corner. Soon it was the Gunners’ turn to attack again, and Francis Coquelin came close to his first Arsenal goal with a long-range effort that drifted just wide of the far post. But back came Bayern and Koscielny was called into action to make a superb sliding tackle to deny Lewandowski after the Poland international had been played in on goal for the best chance of the half. But moments later, Giroud - introduced minutes earlier for Walcott - forced his way through a crowd of bodies in the area as Cazorla swung a deep free kick into the area. Neuer came but couldn’t get a hand to it, the ball hitting the stretching Arsenal striker’s head and rolling into the bottom corner to spark joyous scenes. The France international had a chance to double his tally seven minutes from time when he rose highest to meet Cazorla’s corner, but his header was straight at Neuer. But the game was finally put to bed in injury time when Bellerin intercepted the ball midway in the Bayern half and raced into the box. He fired the ball across goal and Ozil directed his shot on goal. It looked as though Neuer had made another stunning save, but technology proved that the ball had crossed the line - sealing a victory that will be remembered for some time in north London.
Referee: Cüneyt Çakir
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