Just about the only thing which will have soured Arsene’s mood last night was the late winner scored in Zagreb. To that point, a two-goal victory over the group leaders as well as shared spoils in the other match was as good as we could have hoped for.
As things stand, Arsenal are three points behind Bayern and know that they still need to win in Munich to be in control of their own Champions League destiny.
Those are the thoughts of another day. This morning – and for the rest of the week – we enjoy last night’s win which was, I think, thoroughly deserved.
Possession was ceded but backed with hard work in front of a Bayern side who, on another day, probably would have scored three or four goals. It underlines Petr Cech’s performance and overall contribution to the victory.
"Bayern were left ruing the extra set of eyes which spotted that the ball was entirely over the line"
While some of the shooting was straight at him – or relatively comfortable – there was no hint that the parries were leading to follow-up opportunities for the Germans; everything was safe and felt that way, in a manner which has long been absent at Arsenal. When Lewandowski, who was kept quiet by Mertesacker and Koscielny for most of the night, slipped their shackles, the Czech was quickly off his line.
Lewandowski, scoring goals at will domestically and in this competition, were not the only threat. As much as Douglas Costa dazzled with his footwork, the end product was often missing with the Germans forced to shoot, more often than not, from outside the area. Arsenal’s defence was working hard to snuff out opportunities in their own box.
Arsenal had their moments too. Walcott’s header was close enough to Neuer to allow the goalkeeper to make an excellent stop but his heart was surely in his mouth when he realised it had been pushed into the path of Ramsey but with the angle against him and a cluster of bodies to beat, the Welsh international dragged his shot across the face of goal. It was, to that point, the moment of the match. It proved not to be frustrating in the end, certainly not as much as the twang in his hamstring would later on.
More importantly, it was the signal the Germans were fallible. There were going to be opportunities for Arsenal.
They came and from an unlikely source. Not in the sense of Olivier Giroud scoring, that was his fourth in three matches and I doubt he has played more than a game and a half in terms of time on the pitch. He capitalised on Neuer’s wayward defending from Cazorla’s free kick.
The German keeper is prone to these moments of madness and completely misjudged the flight of the ball, perhaps more concerned with an imminent collision with Laurent Koscielny than he should have been. Giroud benefited from the shove he received, propelling him to the ground having not made the best contact with the ball initially.
The momentum bundled the ball into the net via his arm; not deliberate in the opinion of the referee who may well have been thinking about penalising Boateng for his foul in the process.
Mesut Ozil completed the victory after good work from Bellerin in exploiting slack defensive play from the Germans and just as Arsenal had been punished by the fifth official against Olympiacos, Bayern were left ruing the extra set of eyes which spotted that the ball was entirely over the line, leaving Neuer sprawled in the net.
Post-match, Arsene was understandably buoyed by the victory. It was he thought, a sure sign that there is a strong belief in the players and in supporters that things were going well. Free-scoring and keeping clean sheets is never a bad combination to have: “As long as we defend well and score goals then the balance is right”.
It is a moment to savour, a joy to recall and compares favourably with other wins against Europe’s elite in Arsenal’s history. Olympiacos’ win may yet render it irrelevant but the points mean two more victories in the remaining three games ought to be enough to see Arsenal through as runners-up.
Much of that depends on how we fare in Greece for the final group match in December but a repeat of this performance isn’t going to do any harm at all.