Arsenal bow out as Atleti cruise through: Champions League Diary 12.03.14
Arsenal’s European adventure is over for another year following yesterday evening’s 1-1 draw with holders Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. The visitors needed to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg at the Emirates just over three weeks’ ago to progress through to the quarter-final stage for the first time since 2010.
Last night’s match had a lot of similarities to the meeting between the two sides in Germany last year in that Arsenal were more than a match for the Bavarian giants and it was only the first leg result which really did the damage for Arsene Wenger’s side. Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey were obvious misses in the midfield but Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain did particularly well in their absence.
Bayern Munich set up in what has become their traditional 4-2-3-1 system which can fluidly turn into a 4-1-4-1 formation with Thiago Alcantara a drifting member of both the holding midfield pairing and an attacking midfield four. Thiago, whilst impressive on the ball, had his influence on the match restricted by the running of Oxlade-Chamberlain in defensive zones with the former Southampton winger more than willing to track Thiago back into Arsenal’s defensive area to ensure the visitors did not become overrun courtesy of a numerical mismatch.
Schweinsteiger’s return to the starting eleven saw the much talked about Toni Kroos drop to the bench and there was a notable change in the variety and consistency of Bayern’s movement of possession without Kroos dictating the play. If anything the first half was where Bayern looked at their weakest, if you can really say that about this current Bayern side, in the midfield and if Arsenal had been a bit more gung-ho in the first half then maybe taking the lead would have been possible.
One of the interesting pre-match quotes taken from Pep Guardiola’s interview to promote Adidas Gamedayplus, was his suggestion that German teams in the past struggle to defend a positive first leg result in European competition, “When they are going to defend our result, to defend something, they are not so good, so I improve that since I am here.” This desire to improve Bayern’s ability to defend a lead was evident last night with the positioning of the Germans’ back four.
The defensive line held a very tight shape and pushed up no further than the edge of the centre circle when Bayern had the ball in and around Arsenal’s penalty area. There was absolutely no risks being taken by Bayern in terms of defenders pushing up to try and win the ball back quickly and the only real breach of the hosts’ defences was Oxlade-Chamberlain’s incisive run before being fouled midway through the first half.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s performance was one of the numerous positives Arsenal can take from yesterday evening. It was reminiscent of Jack Wilshere’s performance against Barcelona in February 2011 when the then nineteen year old put in a sterling display against the world’s finest midfield and really proved he could mix it with the best. Whilst there was not much in creating clear chances from Oxlade-Chamberlain last night, such was the strength in Bayern’s defensive line, it very much showed he was more than capable of competing with the best and being on par with the Bayern Munich midfield on the biggest stage.
One of the areas where you felt Arsenal might have a chance was on set pieces, yes whilst Arsenal are not renowned for their aerial prowess the inclusion of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, both excellent headers of the ball, gave the Gunners a chance. However Arsenal were simply caught between a rock and a hard place due to being up against the most physically domineering goalkeeper in recent memory. If the ball was played in flat, looking for a flick on at the near post it was too easy for Neuer to muscle players out of his way and collect whilst if the corner was played further away from Neuer, past the penalty spot, the header could not pick up enough power to test the German number one with a prime example of this being Koscielny’s header in the second half.
Bayern Munich looked to have killed the tie completely when Schweinsteiger put the home side ahead with a controlled finish from inside the penalty area after some impressive work from Franck Ribery on the left hand side however Arsenal levelled just minutes after through Lukas Podolski after a collision with Philipp Lahm allowed the Arsenal striker a free run and strike at Neuer’s goal.
Try as they might for the remaining half hour, Arsenal could not muster a real crack at Bayern’s goal despite some good possession of the periphery of Munich’s penalty area as once again the Bavarian defence held firm. Arsene Wenger bemoaned the decision to award Bayern Munich a penalty in injury time, when Laurent Koscielny felled Arjen Robben, claiming the Dutchman “is very good at getting the maximum of nothing and he is a great player and as well a very good diver,” however Lukasz Fabianski stopped Thomas Muller’s spot kick.
Arsenal now only have the Premier League title race and FA Cup semi-final to concentrate out but with the squad likely to improve in the summer and with the two performances against the continent’s best this season there is hope for Arsenal’s European campaign next year.
In the second match of the evening, AC Milan travelled to the Vicente Calderon to try and overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg against Atletico Madrid. Things did not get off to the best of starts for the Milanese giants as Diego Costa put the home side in front after just three minutes with a clever volley. Milan levelled through Kaka just before the half hour and a short spell of control followed for Seedorf’s charges however any real hope of turning the tie around was destroyed just before half-time when Arda Turan’s strike from outside the box took a wicked deflection into the Milan net.
All the momentum from Milan’s comeback was taken away and the team struggled to put the wind back into their sails in the second half, Mario Balotelli was particularly disappointing as rumours about his future in the fashion capital of Italy continue to make headlines. Further goals from Raul Garcia and then Diego Costa late on condemned Milan to a 5-1 aggregate loss and the end of their run in the Champions League for this season. The real worry for Milan is that sitting in tenth place, a whole twenty points of AS Roma in third, all but ensures that this will be their last action in Europe’s top competition for at the very least a full season.
This evening Manchester City look to succeed where Arsenal failed by overturning a first leg 2-0 deficit at the Camp Nou however with both teams suffering embarrassing defeats at the weekend this could well be a nervy affair. The return of Sergio Aguero will however give even the most pessimistic Manchester City supporter a glimmer of hope of a quarter-final birth. Bayer Leverkusen will be very much in damage control mode this evening as they head to Paris on the back of a 4-0 defeat in the first match.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4