After nearly crashing out of the UEFA Champions League last season in a tense 3-3 aggregate draw with Arsenal, seeing a 3-1 winning scoreline from this Round of 16 tie is much more relaxing when you look at it in that context. However, nothing about the last 45 minutes of this second game was relaxing.
Bayern Munich came out and absolutely dominated proceedings for the first 45 minutes, yet were unable to break down what was a superb performance from the Arsenal defense. It was only a matter of time before they got their first goal which came on a great counter which Schweinsteiger slotted home with aplomb early in the second half. Considering Lukas Podolski responded 3 minutes later with an absolute masterclass display of how to beat a goalkeeper near post, the amount of momemtum Bayern were able to generate with that strike was zero. Instead they looked disorganized, panic stricken, and likely to concede goals left, right, and center for about 15 minutes. Philipp Lahm was nowhere to be found as Podolski ran circles around him. It was easily the heart attack inducing display of football this team has shown all season.
Eventually they settled down, but still looked uneasy as Arsenal took the game to Bayern Munich, opening up huge swaths of the field. Eventually it cost Arsenal as Arjen Robben found the ball while being nearly alone in the box. Naturally it ended with Luarent Koscielny fouling the Dutchmen, which gave Bayern the third penalty of the tie. Bayern then proceeded to miss it because what could be funnier and more apropos given the way things went in the first leg?
This was a wake up call for Bayern Munich, just as last year's near loss was as well, but thankfully, a wake up call that contained less panic attacks.
Some thoughts from today's match:
- Arsene Wenger deserves a lot of credit. He played both legs of this tie tight on the ground and forced Bayern Munich to pit Mario Mandzukic up against Per Mertesacker and Luarent Koscielny, and he especially deserves a lot of credit for today's match as they gobbled up everything in the air. The Arsenal backline combined to win 15 aerial duels while Mario Mandzukic won only 2. Guardiola needs to recognize these strategies earlier on in games and use the force that is Thomas Müller's spatial awareness to the greatest effect in ripping the backline out of position. Mario Götze's selection was a good choice, but he pales in comparison to Müller's ability in this regard.
- Whatever happened after that Podolski goal needs to be rectified. Whether it was communication issues, lost concentration, or Guardiola swapping up his defensive structure (it didn't seem like this), they need to understand what went wrong and how to rectify it in the future. If Arsenal had been composed at that time, they might have snuck a goal or two more and Bayern Munich would be going home early.
- The 4-2-3-1 is here to stay. Without Schweinsteiger and Thiago in the double pivot today during that meltdown, and a single pivot only, this game goes much differently. Kroos coming in in place of Götze went a long way towards not only stabilizing their defensive work rate, but also in helping to re-engage Bayern Munich's ability to possess the ball.
- Franck Ribery was MIA in attack this evening and it really hurt Bayern that they didn't have that fully balanced attack that they used to such great effect in Saturday's 6-1 thrashing of Wolfsburg. Here's hoping it was just some rust and he'll be back up to full speed by the time April, and the quarterfinals, rolls around.