For 75 out of 90 minutes, Bayern Munich looked like the dominant force that has been rampaging through the Bundesliga this season. In their Champions League Round of 16 tie against Arsenal, the Bavarian club absolutely controlled the game, maintaining a staggering 70 percent possession and forcing the Gunners out of their comfort zone.
Obviously, this was aided by the sending off of Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny, but by that point, Bayern had already implemented their low-tempo, short passing game.
While Arsenal looked overmatched in the second half, they proved one thing at the beginning: Bayern Munich are not flawless. The Gunners looked the better side in the opening 10 minutes, moving forward with pace, getting in behind Bayern’s high defensive line, and nearly punished the German side for their sloppy play.
The size and pace of Yaya Sanogo caused problems for the center-back pairing of Dante and Jerome Boateng, who kept drifting away from each other a little too much. This was exploited by Arsenal as Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and even Santi Cazorla sped through the defensive channels. If it was not for Manuel Neuer, Arsenal may have been up one or two goals before Bayern were able to find their feet.
Yet, the best players keep their teams in games, and that is exactly what Neuer did. The penalty miss by Ozil crushed Arsenal and lifted Bayern in equal measure. For the home side, it was all downhill from there. The Champions League holders found life down the right flank through Philipp Lahm, Mario Gotze and Arjen Robben. The injury to Kieran Gibbs did not help matters, but it is fair to say that he would not have done much better than substitute Nacho Monreal.
The halftime inclusion of Rafinha on the right to replace Boateng, who was on a yellow card early, saw Martinez move in the vacated center-back position and Lahm move into his now regular holding midfielder spot. Rafinha played high up the field, which allowed Lahm to give him defensive cover while also helping out in attack.
When Arsenal were not getting worked on the right wing, Toni Kroos, Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara were dominating possession in the center of midfield. All three found space quite well, and Kroos’ blistering shot was the icing on the proverbial cake.
The substitution of Thomas Muller for Mario Mandzukic, a possible Arsenal target, was a good move by Pep Guardiola. The tall forward contributed very little, and the movement and work rate of Muller helped open up the Gunners’ tired defense. Plus, the player is nothing short of clinical in front of goal and his header clinched the game in the dying minutes.
2-0 is not an insurmountable deficit, but against Bayern, insurmountable is not far off. The red card will ensure that Szczesny misses the second leg, and the return of Franck Ribery from injury will only make Arsenal’s plight that much more hopeless. Will Arsenal rally and overcome the odds? Will Bayern run of the score? Will Arsene Wenger swear off jacket zippers? All will become clear when these teams meet again in Germany.