Bayern Munich 5 – 1 Arsenal
“Take your mind off the football. Go and listen to a record.” A caring thought from my wife, except I didn’t listen, did I? I sought solace in the 1991 playlist on Dad’s Jukebox. In a moment of levity or bone-idleness, I had lifted the title for this week’s offering, from the B.A.D II song, “Rush”; somehow, “Situation No Win” was a little too close to the bone. It is nonetheless, an astonishingly good compilation.
I have a dream…
Back in 2012, Ivan Gazidis promised a bright future. “In a couple of years,” he told us, “we will be competing at the level of Bayern Munich.” It didn’t quite work out that way. We’re light years away from them on the pitch but at least we are at the same level as Barcelona this week. The trouble is, you know their board will act to solve the problem. Ours? When they don’t have a clue, they leave it to Arsène.
And that just exacerbates the problem. Reliance on the same players, the same way of playing, and the same meaningless excuses when it goes wrong.
And it turned into a nightmare
The nature of professional football inevitably leads to recriminations following a capitulation of this nature. Arsène is the lightning rod for everything at the club but it’s rare that a manager isn’t; Arsenal is anything but unique in that sense. This time, the players need to stand front and centre to take their share of the criticism.
For twenty minutes, we believed a good result was possible. Mesut Özil spurned an opportunity to give us the lead just before half-time and in that moment, we were on the cusp: it was glory or disaster. It was Arsenal so, of course, it was the latter. It was so bad that Ancelotti lamented the second leg being played.
Post-match, Arséne was shell-shocked and broken. Martin Keown compared him to a punch-drunk boxer, someone who needs protection from himself. In no way would any of us be surprised if he called it a day tomorrow. He won’t but anyone who thinks he will go one beyond the end of this season needs to watch that video again and rethink their view. He is out of answers.
Surviving the opening phase of the match was the first target and we didn’t manage that; Arjen Robben’s finish was a moment of footballing beauty, invited by the first incident of slack-jawed defending of the evening. But – and encouragement was drawn from the ‘but’ – we held on, gradually got stronger and for the last twenty minutes of the first half, were serious in our intent to win the game. The counter-attack purred and eventually, due reward came when Lewandowski unleashed a fearsome volley against Koscielny’s boot.
Howard Webb said it was a penalty and the ref obligingly pointed to the spot.
From the ridiculous to the sublime
Alexis missed the spot-kick; it was woeful but having swung at the rebound, he chested the ball down and swivelled to shoot, much to the surprise of the four defenders around him, Manuel Neuer and the defender on the line. Bottom corner with the finish as well. At 1 – 1, I was content with losing 2 – 1.
In ten second half minutes, it went from a good night out to a nightmare. Koscielny’s hamstring twanged and Mustafi’s head went. Positionally, the German was all over the place. I mean he went full-on Vermaelen. Listless and outjumped by Lewandowski, Mustafi berated the right side of the defence as Costa ambled through the middle of the penalty area, as he descended into defensive insanity. Koscielny’s value to the team revealed itself as despair’s tears streamed down the cheek. At 24, Mustafi still needs to be organised himself; last night was a harsh arena to try and learn that on the field of play.
But Koscielny’s absence doesn’t excuse the collapse. It’s not even an acceptable reason for it, as weak a rationale as the baffling decision from the referee to allow Neuer’s goal kick to stand with half-a-dozen players in the Bayern penalty area. But if you believe these incidents were why we lost, then you have serious issues. The cultural failings of Arsenal Football Club were ruthlessly exposed last night in Munich.
Sitting back and defending is a footballing art
There is a reason why German teams sit back and defend in the Allianz; they don’t want this humiliation once, let alone in consecutive seasons. Matches like this expose the folly of considering the top four worth anything in a footballing sense.
Financially, it’s helped keep us in Europe’s top eight but instead of being used wisely, it’s held us back on the pitch. Too much emphasis and pride are placed on ‘good housekeeping’, except it isn’t ‘good housekeeping’ when the is no investment in the time needed to put together a cohesive plan to compete on the pitch.
In 2006, we stood toe-to-toe with the best the continent had to offer and with ten men, came within ten minutes of the biggest prize. A decade on, we have taken a huge backwards step while the elite has taken two equally big ones forwards.
Put this set of players in Paris, in the same situation, and escaping with a thrashing as bad as last night would be a good result. There is no spine to this side, no character, no determination and absolutely zero pride in playing for Arsenal.
The only punishment for the XI which started the game is to make them play on Monday. No cosy fortnight off, no quick nipping back to Germany, Spain or Dubai on a holiday; training tomorrow, all weekend, ready for Monday where they can make amends to the manager for letting him down once again.
David Ospina, by the way, escapes any censure; he put in a magnificent effort to keep the score down to five.
I could go on about it all. There is so much sadness that Arsene’s era is ending in befuddlement and disarray. But those who think it is clouding his legacy miss the point; that’s set in stone, the changes wrought not just in the last decade in the move to the Emirates but also in the first decade in raising the club’s profile.
But it now needs someone to take us on in the next phase of football, before the elite clubs are too far out of reach to be caught. And that’s not as far off as you think, if it hasn’t happened already.