As referee Nicola Rizzoli blew the final whistle at the Emirates on Wednesday afternoon, the scoreboard would show that Bayern Munich had once against marched into London and walked away victors. This time, it was a 2-0 victory over Arsenal. However, the scoreline itself cannot show you just how bonkers this match really was.
Arsenal started the match very strong, pressing Bayern high all over the field. However, it was the Bavarians that nearly struck first. Toni Kroos forced a nice save out of Wojciech Szczesny with a left footed shot. Back at the other end, it was Manuel Neuer's turn to come up big by turning away the effort from Yaya Sanogo after the young Frenchman beat the offside trap.
Then, disaster struck for FCB. Mesut Özil beat another failed offside trap and won a footrace with Jerome Boateng into the penalty area. Özil cut back inside and fooled Boateng. The defender left his foot out just a little bit too long, and Özil felt the contact and hit the ground. The referee correctly awarded the penalty and showed a yellow card to Boateng.
There's a reason all of us believe that we have the best goalkeeper in the world. As Özil went to take the spot kick, Neuer chose left but threw his big hand up high and saved the shot. The Bayern supporters in the corner erupted while the rest of the Emirates Stadium let out a loud groan. The Arsenal fans knew that they wasted a perfect opportunity to put Bayern behind the eight ball.
Bayern gradually began to exert their control on the match, especially on the right side. Pep Guardiola decided to move Philipp Lahm to right back and start Javi Martinez in the center of midfield. Lahm ran roughshod over the right side for the remainder of the first half. Whether he had Mario Götze or Arjen Robben occupying the space in front of him, it didn't seem to matter to Lahm. There was nothing that Kieran Gibbs and Santi Cazorla could do to stop Lahm and his midfield partner from continuously getting into dangerous areas along that side. Then, Gibbs had to come off due to an injury and was replaced by Nacho Monreal.
It must be said that the first half hour of the match saw nothing but struggles for Martinez and David Alaba. Martinez looked very much like a player returning from injury against a quality opponent, while Alaba's positioning was poor in dealing with the speed of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Bayern began to seize control of possession in the match and were finally rewarded for it.
In the 38th minute, Robben was brought down in the penalty area by Szczesny. The penalty was just, and the referee sent the Polish goalkeeper to the showers early with a red card. Kroos lofted the ball over the top of the back line right into the path of a streaking Robben. Instead of bringing the ball straight down, Robben pushed it just past Szczesny, and the goalkeeper chose to bring him down instead of letting Robben have a tap-in goal. With backup goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski set to replace his countryman, Arsene Wenger chose to bring off Cazorla.
With my choice to take the penalty, Thomas Müller, on the bench, Alaba was the one chosen to kick. Unfortunately, Alaba's shot was well wide and smacked off the post. The two sides would go into the half scoreless, but Bayern would feel more confident with the man advantage.
Guardiola made a move at the half to bring on Rafinha for Boateng. This meant that Martinez would slide back to centerback, while Lahm moved to occupy the center of midfield. Lahm adds more creativity to the midfield in addition to the steady defense that he already provides. Rafinha's fresh legs wreaked havoc immediately along the right side, continuing Lahm's dominance from the first half.
Bayern turned on the screws in the second half as Arsenal spent almost the entire half defending in their own penalty area. Robben was instrumental in many Bayern attacks throughout the final 45, but he was never able to put that final ball together to find the back of the net. He brought a big save out of Fabianski in the 52nd minute with a wonderful curling left shot.
The Bavarians finally grabbed the lead in the 54th minute. Lahm squared the ball to his left, and Kroos struck it first time into the corner of the net. The goal, only Kroos' second in all competitions this season, was spectacular and basically the straw that killed Arsenal's "spirit". The match was completely dominated by Bayern from this point forward.
In the 63rd minute, with Bayern still ahead 1-0, I wrote down in my notes three words. "Not. Good. Enough." The possession being retained by Bayern was something unheard of, but what was being accomplished with it to that point? Well, the remaining half hour answered that question.
Thomas Müller came on for Mario Mandzukic after a largely unimpressive performance, and then the fun started. Rafinha broke free inside the penalty box and sent a cross across the face of the goal, but nobody was able to get into a position to get on the end of it. Robben put a shot just wide, and Götze saw his diving header blocked by an unaware Per Mertesacker.
Bayern will feel aggrieved that they weren't awarded another penalty late in the second half after Laurent Koscielny kicked Müller's legs out from underneath him. Guardiola brought on Claudio Pizarro for Thiago Alcantara in an attempt to find that elusive second goal.
Then, in the 88th minute, Bayern received a moment of brilliance from their captain. Lahm crossed the ball in to a wide open Müller who beat Fabianski with a diving, driving header. The ball struck the back of the net, and the "Super Bayern" chant coming from the supporters could be heard all the way back in Munich.
The referee whistled for full time. Bayern beat Arsenal in London, 2-0. The return leg will be played on March 11 in Munich.
There are some crazy stats about this particular game. Here they are in bullet form.
- Bayern completed 95% of their passes. Arsenal only completed 70%.
- Bayern attempted 986 passes and completed 861. Arsenal attempted only 309 passes and completed an atrocious 185.
- Kroos completed 93% of his passes. He also completed 151 out of 162 passes. These are crazy numbers.
- Thiago completed 95% of his passes and 100 out of 105.
- Bayern led the possession statistic 73% to 27%.
- No Arsenal player completed more than 22 passes. Bayern had 11 players complete more, including Neuer.
- Kroos, Thiago and Lahm all completed >90% of their passes.
- Arsene Wenger refused to shake Pep Guardiola's hand: What could it possibly mean?
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