Bayern Munich grabs control over Arsenal in Champions League matchup of UEFA heavyweights
Bayern Munich took a big step forward in its Champions League defense, emerging from an eventful, pulsating night at the Emirates with a 2-0 win over an Arsenal team now on the fade in two major competitions.
A Bayern Munich team that, being so far ahead in the Bundesliga race, is destined to be judged by its ongoing Champions League defense, had to work hard to claim the margin in this Round-of-16 matchup of European heavies, one that now goes back to Bavaria for a final verdict.
Thomas Muller’s late goal on a skillful diving header doubled the lead provided by Toni Kroos earlier in the second half, as Arsenal needed just a few more minutes of defending to escape with something better (a 1-0 loss, that is) against all the offensive might of Bayern’s high-scoring side.
Two penalty kick failures (one by each team) and a red card, all before the break, went a long way to deciding this one, as Arsenal was forced to play a man down against the defending UEFA champs for more than 50 minutes.
A slightly controversial decision from the man in the middle will be the topic around North London as Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli ejected Gunners goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after 38 minutes. Szczesny had brought down Bayern’s Arjen Robben near goal after the Bayern winger was put through on Kroos’ clever, chipped ball.
It was Kroos who finally broke through, putting the visitors in command with a sumptuous, well-placed right-footed shot in the 54th minute. The sequence started with more good work from the right side, which Bayern worded relentlessly, feeding the tireless Robben and Philipp Lahm time against along that flank.
The game was alive from the start with both goalkeepers forced into quality saves within five minutes. The best was from Gunners ‘keeper Szczesny, whose flying, fingertip save on Kroos’ well-aimed effort from 20 yards was surely among the best stops of all the Round-of-16 matches.
The real talkers of the early minutes were still to come as Mezut Ozil went through in the 8th minute (although he was possibly offside). When Bayern center back Jerome Boateng failed to deal well enough with the German attacker’s quick cut-back inside Bayern’s 18, Rizzoli pointed to the penalty spot.
Big Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer stood his ground on Ozil’s tentative run-up and the Arsenal man saw his shot straight down the middle turned away by a fellow German international. Ozil, by the way, is the only player now to have missed two Champions League penalty kicks this year.
Rizzoli’s choice to eject Szczesny could have turned out worse yet for Arsenal but for David Alaba’s penalty shot for Bayern, which he aimed low and left, only to see it ping off the outside of Arsenal’s post.
Most of the second half was damage control for the home side; Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger set his side into a 4-4-1, with Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wide – the hard-running “Ox” managed to be a bother here and there to Bayern’s back line, although he didn’t dance through the German defense the way Robben did on the other side – in behind striker Yaya Sanogo.
Wenger had rattled the Champions League world with his lineup choice at striker, gambling with the French youngster Sanogo over far more experienced (and yet personally troubled, recently) Olivier Giroud.
Giroud has been Wenger’s preferred striker choice all year; Sanogo had just one previous start for the Gunners.
It was actually a double gamble, of sorts. If Wenger was unhappy with Giroud, who has been OK, although hardly overwhelming during Arsenal’s fine seasons, the manager could have opted for German international Lukas Podolski, who has over 100 caps for his country.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Flamini, Wilshere; Ozil, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Sanogo
Bayern: Neuer; Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba; Martínez, Thiago; Robben, Kroos, Gotze; Mandzukić.