Arsenal 1 Bayern 3: Quality of Possession More Important than Quantity
Many football neutrals wrote Arsenal off before this contest and who could blame them? Bayern Munich are in hot form at the moment, sitting 15 points clear of Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga as well as not conceding any goal in 2013 prior to yesterday night’s game.
Arsene Wenger responded to the team that succumbed to defeat last weekend, making wholesale changes to his starting lineup. Nacho Monreal was cup-tied so Thomas Vermaelen was drafted as a make-shift left back, allowing Per Mertesacker to partner Laurent Koscielny in the heart of the defense. Wenger also introduced Aaron Ramsey in Abou Diaby’s stead but many eyebrows were raised when Olivier Giroud was relegated to the bench with Theo Walcott starting through the middle.
Before kickoff, both managers exchanged pleasantries and the commentator gave me a food for thought,
“Jupp Heynckes is leaving anyway but no one knows the fate of Arsene Wenger”
Arsenal began the game on a high and tore Bayern open when Jack Wilshere teed up Santi Cazorla with a pin-point pass at the edge of the box. The Spanish magician saw an onrushing Walcott but his delivery was very poor for a player of his high standards.
Despite being on the back foot from the start of the game, Bayern got the lead with their first meaningful attack. Thomas Mueller drifted on the right before swinging a tame cross that evaded Arsenal’s rearguard. Out of the blue, Toni Kroos popped up like a weasel at the edge of the box before firing a sweet shot that bounced past Szczesny.
Franck Ribery and Phillip Lahm threatened from the right hand side with a cross that was superbly blocked by Vermaelen. Kroos swung in the resulting corner and Daniel van Buyten evaded Mertesacker easily to head the ball goalwards, forcing Szczesny to make a tame save but Mueller was on hand to tap in the away team’s second goal.
Arsenal pushed on for a glimmer of hope in the first half but Mertesacker’s shot was blocked by van Buyten and Kroos. Lady Luck smiled on the Gunners when David Alaba slipped in front of Sagna on the right hand side, allowing the French fullback to locate Walcott on the edge of the box. The English forward blasted his effort on a defender and that chance went begging.
Right at the death, Bayern almost went three up when Mario Mandzukic’s header missed Szczesny’s goal by a lick of paint.
Many expected Arsene Wenger to make positive changes at the start of the half with the Gunners chasing the game but the manager persisted with the same side at the start of the second 45 minutes.
10 minutes into the second half, Arsenal won a fictitious corner kick when Cazorla’s shot deflected off Podolski’s back but the official pointed to the corner flag. Wilshere lofted in the corner and after the ball evaded everyone in the six-yard box, Podolski held his nerve to nod the ball to an unguarded net.
The impregnable Bayern Munich defense finally conceded a goal in 2013 and they looked quite shaky from there on. Walcott fired a free kick that was punched to safety by Manuel Neuer and at the other end, Szczesny saved Kroos’ drive.
Wilshere made one of his trademark bursting runs and showed great determination to win the ball back but he lost his balance at the vital moment. Wenger made the changes the fans expected throwing Giroud and Tomas Rosicky straight into the action for Ramsey and Podolski.
Both players almost contributed to what would have been a fairytale equalizer for Arsenal. Rosicky retrieved the ball in midfield and floated in a sumptuous ball to Walcott. The winger played a delicious pass to Giroud but the Frenchman blasted his right-footed effort straight at Neuer with a gaping goal in sight.
If Arsenal had the Lewandowskis, Higuains, Benzemas and Falcaos of world football, that would most certainly be the equalizer. Quality.
As expected, Arsenal was made to rue that miss when Mandzukic laid on the ball for Arjen Robben and the Dutch winger uncharacteristically passed the ball to Lahm. Lahm reached the touchline and drilled in a cross that was sent home by Mandzukic, after he challenged for the ball with Sagna.
Wilshere did a neat one-two with Rosicky but his tame shot was straight at Neuer. Late on, Vermaelen won a free kick on the edge of the box and everyone was hoping from a good delivery from Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard’s cross was poor and Arsenal’s best shot of a late goal was gone with the wind.
Even with 522 passes (78% completed), 114.74 km covered and an average possession of 54% for Arsenal, Bayern Munich got the stats that really mattered – three vital away goals.
It’s fair to say that quality of possession was more important than quantity.
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