Champions League Diary 20.02.14
In the second of this week’s Champions League match days we saw yet another hammer blow to England’s chances of success in the competition this season as a spirited Arsenal side were defeated 2-0 at home by Bayern Munich. In the evening’s second game Italian giants AC Milan face a significantly uphill battle in three weeks time after they were beaten 1-0 at the San Siro by Atletico Madrid with Diego Costa getting the elusive away goal.
First we’ll start at the Emirates as Arsene Wenger’s quest to finally win the European Cup continued with his Arsenal side hosting Bayern Munich in the first knockout round for the second successive season. Yesterday’s fixture was a world apart from the meeting at the Emirates last year with this new look Arsenal looking much the better team for the duration of the early exchanges. It was almost as if you had been transported back to 2006 when Arsenal were taking on Europe’s elite and overcoming them however there was the considerable difference in there being no world class forward in the side.
Arsenal created a number of chances early on with Bayern Munich struggling to get control of the ball, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain went close after an awkward header back to Neuer from David Alaba, whilst Yaya Sanogo tested the giant of a Germain goalkeeper with a header inside the penalty area. Arsenal had turned up on the biggest stage and were given the chance to take a priceless one goal advantage when Mesut Ozil was brought down in the penalty area by the clumsy Jerome Boateng after ten minutes of the first half.
Ozil, despite missing his last penalty for Arsenal stepped up to take the spot kick however made things easy for the penalty specialist Neuer with a stop start run up. The Bayern goalkeeper saved the penalty with ease, and it was at that moment where you worried for Arsenal. Would they be able to overcome the adversity created by missing such a golden chance?
The answer was yes, the hosts kept working hard and although Bayern grew into the game Arsenal were still more than matching the World Champions. That was until Wojciech Szczesny was dismissed for a foul on Arjen Robben inside the penalty area. The decision was a correct one according to the UEFA rule book with Szczesny denying a clear goalscoring opportunity but you have to feel it is a rule which needs looking at. For me the keeper shouldn’t be sent off if a penalty is given, it creates too much of a separation between the two sides as not only is the keeper sent off but another outfield player has to be withdrawn and it completely destroys the shape of a team. Can you honestly say the next fifty or so minutes were a proper contest?
David Alaba did in fact miss his penalty, the Austrian sidefooted his strike onto the right hand post, much to the delight of Mathieu Flamini who appeared to goad the young full-back following his miss in a somewhat unsporting manner.
As soon as you go down to ten men in European competition, particularly in the knockout stages, you stand very little chance of success. Just look at Manchester United against both Bayern Munich in 2010 and Real Madrid in 2013. As soon as Rafael and Nani were sent off in those matches respectively the game plan was undone, the shape was lost and the opposition were good enough teams to hold the ball just outside the United penalty area, wait for the inevitable gap to appear and then force a move through it. The second half last night was almost a carbon copy of those two situations.
Arsenal were forced to defend so deep and until Yaya Sanogo was moved back into midfield in a 4-5-0 system there was too many gaps for Bayern to exploit. Bayern were comfortable in sitting just in front of Arsenal’s penalty area and waiting for a chance and that is exactly what happened when Toni Kroos fired the visitors into a lead with a stupendous strike from outside the box. To fully illustrate the quality of the strike you just need to look at Fabianski, the Arsenal goalkeeper ended up crashing into the post yet was still nowhere near the shot such was the power and curl on the effort.
Arsenal defended admirably from then on however as with Barcelona and Manchester City the previous evening you always felt as if the visitors could create a goalscoring opportunity whenever they wanted and for them it was merely a case of running the clock down and striking late on. That is exactly what happened when a fantastic Philipp Lahm pass took Arsenal’s backline out of the game and found substitute Thomas Muller unmarked inside the box with the German duly heading past the onrushing Fabianski.
Another evening of continental disappointment for Arsenal supporters with it seeming in recent years everything that could go wrong for the Gunners, has ranging from being drawn against Barcelona and Lionel Messi repeatedly or red cards at inopportune times. Mesut Ozil’s work rate was yet again lambasted yesterday but it must be remember that this is probably the first year since he was a teenage that Ozil has not had a winter break. Supporters must give him time to adjust to such a strenuous schedule. Despite the spirit within the Arsenal camp and the result in Bavaria last season, for me there is next to no chance of progression into the quarter-finals for the Gunners.
A less than bumper crowd of just under sixty six thousand set the tone for what was to be a difficult night in Milan for Clarence Seedorf’s team. Mario Balotelli, Kaka and Adel Taarabt were the chosen attacking trio as the hosts look to try and take a lead to defend in Spain in three weeks time.
In truth AC Milan started the match well with Taarabt seemingly showing the world the talent he has in his locker can be ultra effective when surrounded by a higher calibre of player than at QPR and Fulham. Thibaut Courtois was called into action twice in the early goings with the Belgian making two top quality stops to first deny Kaka and then Andrea Poli just minutes later.
Milan had much the better of the first half and really should have been ahead in the match but such was the quality of Courtois. Atletico were gradually getting more and more comfortable in the match after the start of the second half and you always worried that the Italian giants would come to rue the earlier missed chances. This was to be the case as Atletico stole the victory just seven minutes from time when a corner was flicked on by Abate and Diego Costa somehow conjured up the most amazing header using all his neck muscle whilst back pedalling away from goal. It was a goal worthy of deciding any European tie and AC Milan will have a lot to do to qualify for the quarter-finals when Seedorf’s charges head to the Calderon in three weeks time.
That concludes a difficult week for English teams in the Champions League with both Arsenal and Manchester City looking at a first knockout round exit however next week the Champions League returns with Chelsea and Manchester United carrying the flag for English hopes in the tournament with Galatasaray and Olympiacos their respective opponents. There was not a single goal scored by a home side in all of this week’s four matches however if that is to be the case next week then things are looking good for Chelsea and United.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4