The theme of Arsenal season so far seems to be that they’re nearly men. Poor starts have been costing them, with second half rallies not enough to see them over the line, and the same could be said of the tie with Bayern Munich.
They will hope that the impressive 2-0 win at the Allianz Arena will give them momentum for the remainder of the league campaign, rather than seeing the nearly-men tag extend to their Premier League finish. It may well be that they’ve left it too late, but after Wednesday night’s performance, confidence should have been instilled for that late charge.
The most encouragement will be drawn from the defence. Granted, Bayern were nowhere near at full capacity in terms of their performance and effort, and that applies to all compliments paid to Arsenal. However, the back five of Fabianski, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gibbs all put in solid shifts - to not concede a goal at the home of Bayern Munich, even with the home side in second gear, is a huge achievement.
Not only was there the accomplishment of an away clean sheet in Bavaria, but the impressive feat of putting two goals past Manuel Neuer and his stern looking defence. There may have been one or two absentees for Bayern when it came to defensive players, but the side out there was formidable regardless. The first goal was fluid and clinical; the second a fantastic header from a side who rarely profit from corners - usually the danger is more that Arsenal will concede from their own corner.
Such contrast, then, with the game against Tottenham, about which Arsène Wenger said: “We were not efficient in the zones where it matters, at the front and the back.” Here, the Gunners were impressive in front of their own goal and much better than expected in front of Bayern’s.
It was the midfield who perhaps let them down, despite the fine work done by messrs Rosicky and Ramsey in the build-up to Giroud’s opener. While somewhat understandable against a side like Bayern, the Gunners often struggled to keep possession in the centre of the park and as a result struggled at times to get the ball forward into dangerous areas.
And Mikel Arteta, one of Arsenal’s most experienced heads, frustratingly fouling Arjen Robben twice in injury time near the corner flag certainly didn’t help Arsenal’s cause. Having had such a great season last year, it’s sad to think that Arteta’s use to Arsenal is dwindling, but in truth the silly fouls near the end were just more examples that his usefulness is slowly decreasing.
His first Champions League game for Arsenal was in Germany also, against Borussia Dortmund, and he looked out of his depth. He seems to have adjusted to the rigours of Europe’s elite competition, but still seems slightly out of place at times.
His passing has seemed forced this season as opposed to the calm, smooth balls that the he played last season, but a huge disadvantage of his is his engine, or lack thereof. Some players can get away with sitting quite far in front of the defence, and Arsenal often need that sort of structure in order to support Giroud and ensure that he isn’t isolated. However, when any player gets into the space between defence and midfield, Arteta can be seen struggling to keep up behind, and will either foul or just lose the player entirely.
The problem, however, lies in how to replace Arteta - his experience is usually very valuable, especially in the league, and with Thomas Vermaelen dropped, and such a strong defensive performance, Arsenal certainly can’t drop both captain and vice-captain.
On top of that, after selling Alex Song and not managing to replace him, there’s hardly anyone in the ranks that is more suited to that role, which is something of a crime. The Gunners were linked with Bayern’s Luiz Gustavo in the summer, and although ‘FC Hollywood’ will surely strive to keep the talented Brazilian, Wenger could do much worse than go back in for the midfielder.
It’s unfair to discuss the negatives after a night on which Arsenal performed so valiantly, with such an improbable task to complete. As mentioned previously, the defence were magnificent, and exactly what the fans want to see from their back-line. It would be surprising if Wenger didn’t keep the same back five for the Swansea game.
Pride restored for Arsenal, then - not a perfect performance as it needed to be, but a hugely impressive result at the Allianz. Of course the first leg was disappointing and in the end was the difference, but Arsène Wenger will be focusing on the positives, and that 2nd leg victory could well be the confidence boost to force his side into the top four.