FC Bayern Munich secured a huge victory today, going on the road and beating a hard-scrapping Arsenal side by a 3-1 score-line. The result leaves Bayern in great shape to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals (indeed, at this point we have to be considered prohibitive favorites). But this was far from a blow-out, as the Gunners showed toughness and even had Bayern scrambling for a bit in the second half.
The very first few minutes of the match saw Arsenal surprisingly winning several loose balls in the middle of the field, and even creating a (half) chance from the right side. But Bayern soon asserted control over the middle acres, and not yet 8 minutes had passed when Toni Kroos gave Bayern the lead with a volley from the top of the box:
This was a great finish by Kroos, and a smart play to know that hitting it a little low (into a bounce) was much better than too high. I guess you could say there was an element of luck, as Arsenal nearly poked it clear, but it bounded through right onto Kroos' foot. However it happened, though, it was a nice goal and a huge lift for Bayern, as Arsenal now had to chase the game.
Even with the lead, Bayern didn't completely sit back. Although we let Arsenal have the ball deep in their own corners, Bayern still mostly controlled the middle of the pitch, and Ribery especially was everywhere: flying from side to side, making deep runs into the final third, and still getting back to defend if Arsenal seemed to have any chance to break out. The only real chance Arsenal had towards the end of the first half was a long ball to Wilshere, which Lahm managed to shut down by forcing him back to the inside. And we doubled the lead before 25 minutes were up, with Thomas Müller in the right place to bang home a rebound after Szczesny failed to control a rebound and Podolski found himself rooted to the near post.
After the half, though, Arsenal showed they wouldn't go quietly. After a very dubious call to give the Gunners or corner, Manuel Neuer got caught in no-man's land: he came lunging out for the ball as it crossed the goal mouth, not getting far enough out to poke it away, but still too far away to save a (fairly weak) header from Podolski:
The goal woke up the Emirates crowd and put Arsenal on the front foot, as some Bayern turnovers (and one or two very tight calls from the officiating crew) led to a spell of possession and another pair of chances for Arsenal. Luckily, Neuer made up for his earlier error with two sharp reflex saves, and Arsenal's burst of energy came to nothing. And, as they continued to push their midfielders and FBs forward, it was clear that Bayern (with Robben now on the pitch) would have a chance to end the match with another goal if we could break forward at the right time. It finally came with less than 15 minutes to go. Robben's unselfish lay-off gave Lahm the chance to center, and the ball bounced off of Mandzukic's foot and into a slow, lazy arc into the net:
A weird goal, but it was certainly deserved, as Arsenal had to throw men forward and didn't have anyone minding the fort. Gomez also has a chance to find a teammate in the late going, but chose to shoot himself, blasting way over and spurning the chance to take Bayern to 4.
Some other thoughts:
- Kroos and Ribery both played very well, with the Frenchman terrorizing Arsenal from both wings. Alaba had one play where he got caught out of position, but for the most part defended well (including the nice through-the-legs poke-away from Walcott) through several tough match-ups. But the biggest surprise might have been van Buyten, who was not only a rock in the Bayern area, but also showed some decent ... I won't say "quickness," but "not-slowness" in making several steals and shutting down the middle of the Arsenal target area.
- New commentator Gus Johnson made a few mistakes, but overall did OK and I thought kept it interesting. The bigger problem was the Fox Sports production crew, who mistakenly claimed a first half yellow on Müller that didn't exist and generally were wrong or late with graphics a few times. And who was the second announcer who had a cockney accent but still doesn't know how to pronounce "Bayern?"
- Nothing's assured yet, but we're in a great chance to advance going into the next leg: even a 2-0 win by Arsenal (ha!) wouldn't be enough. I believe Bastian will miss the match, and we'll have an extended look at the yellow card situation before that second leg.
Back with more later. Good, exciting match with the right result, and I think we can mostly feel safe in looking ahead. Thanks for reading.