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Pyrrhic victory

In the end it goes into the records as a loss. Nothing more. Nothing less. It simply reads as Arsenal failing to move on into the next round of the Champion’s League. But in reality it could mean oh so much more.

In the end it goes into the records as a loss. Nothing more. Nothing less. It simply reads as Arsenal failing to move on into the next round of the Champion’s League. But in reality it could mean oh so much more.

No one. No. ONE. Gave Arsenal much of a chance of advancing or even winning at the Allianz Arena. For pretty much most of the Bundesliga and Champion’s League campaign, it has been an impregnable fortress. Bayern hadn’t lost by more than 2 goals in their home stadium in – well quite a long time. They just don’t lose at home. Until last night.

Already the story is being written that Bayern just weren’t that good last night. That is a disservice to Arsenal going out and immediately doing what theyhad to do. The mission looked neigh on impossible. Arsenal needed to score a goal within the opening 15 to take some of the pressure off themselves, take the 60k plus crowd out of it and insert some doubt into the German side.

It was not going to be easy. First, Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna – often stalwarts in the Arsenal squad were out. Additionally, Wenger used the match to effectively bench both Thomas Vermaelen and Wojiech Szczesny  and replace them with Laurent Koscielny and Lukas Fabianski. You’d hardly be blamed for having a modicum of doubt from that alone.

So when Arsenal opened up their account with the 4th minute and managed to accomplish a good part of their Mission Impossible early, hope started to come back in for the Gunners. And what was immediately evident to me, was that it created a great sense of doubt both in the German side and in their supporters. This was not supposed to happen. It hasn’t happened in so long.

But Bayern being Bayern weren’t just going to sit back and take it. Their supporters tried very hard to urge their team on. But wave after wave of German attack was stiffled and even when breakdowns occured the Arsenal work rate to overcome them was immense. None bigger than the second half chance when Arjen Robben went in alone only to have a sliding Carl Jenkinson make an amazing tackle to deny the Dutchman a clear chance.

For most of the first half, Arsenal, not known for the cool and collected defensive form looked solid. Mertesacker and Koscielny made some minor mistakes but for the most part they worked well as a tandem. Interestingly to me was the fact that for the last 10 minutes of the first half Bayern looked lost. They could not figure out how they could not break down a determined Arsenal side.

Going in up 1-0  at the half was something none of us saw coming. If Arsenal were actually going to win this match everyone out there thought it was a foregone conclusion that Bayern would score. If you say you didn’t – I am calling you out as liar. The key for the second half would be to stay calm in light of the expected flurry of Bayern control and pressure. And to their credit Arsenal did. Again, credit to the work rate of every individual on the pitch they collectively worked together to deny Bayern space or outlets and simply the Germans had no answer for this but to simply try and lump the ball from deep in their own end.

But Arsenal had a plan. Looking at it, I said to myself this is what Wenger clearly had in mind 2 years ago at the Nou Camp before a dodgy Red Card ended that match. The plan was a very un-Arsenal-like approach to the match. Acknowledging Bayern were a better side, Arsenal simply sat back deeper with all but Giroud clearly behind the ball most times. But credit to the Frenchman, he got back effectively as well to offer added cover.

Shots by Bayern were plenty but with the exception of Robben’s breakaway, none were really deep within Arsenal’s box. Most of the German’s shots came from outside the 18-yard box. None of them truly troubled Lukas Fabianski, a goal keeper we all worry about and who hadn’t played in 13 months.

It was all bittersweet in the end though. We can take some pride in the fact that we ended Bayern’s 24 game unbeaten run and on their own pitch. We can also rue what would’ve been. Missed chances at home, Gervinho being well, Gervinho and watching that slow dribbler drift wide of the Bayern goal. The task in the end was monumental and for the third year running, Arsenal go out in the round of 16.

People want to write that off as some sort of negative, but in 2 of the 3 years Arsenal faced off against clear tournament favorites. Last year’s Milan ties were more frustrating because of lack of quality Milan possessed.

The question now becomes – what next? Last year’s near miss to Milan catapaulted Arsenal to an amazing close out to their Premier League campaign to come from outside the top 4 to finishing third. And while we all WANT MORE than that, it’s all we have now. Arsenal must not let this opportunity and this momentum go. It has to carry on from here or all the work they put in last night to prove people wrong will be for naught.

There are positive signs. To me the biggest being that our defense for the 3rd time in a row without Thomas Vermaelen kept a clean sheet. Stoke, Sunderland and now Bayern were games in where the Centerbacks were Koscielny and Mertesacker and while people were skeptical about Stoke and Sunderland there can be denying the class of Bayern. Our defense looks more controlled and collected right now without our “Captain” in it. Koscileny doesn’t seem to be prone to the mistakes he oft to do when he partners with Mertesacker. All together our defense just looks more sound without him. And there is the possibility that Wenger has seen that and is likely to keep Vermaelen out longer. When asked specifically about the defense and Thomas Vermaelen this is what he had to say:

“I believe our defense played very well overall,” said Wenger. “They looked in control and solid defensively.  Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs and Fabianski all had good games. You are never going to stop a team like Bayern creating chances.”

When asked specifically about Vermaelen playing this weekend and sitting him for this match:

“I don’t want to explain that. It is possible he might play at Swansea. I haven’t decided yet. I might rotate.”

To me it’s clear that a message is being sent. And while we may not have wanted to be sent in such a big match, the result and the performances of those that deputized are hopefully giving not only Vermaelen food for thought but Szczesny as well.

Fabianski will give you agida for sure. But he seemed quite in control of his box and his defense. Szczesny was praised early on in his first few months as the number 1 for his vocal chastisement of the defenders. Last night, Fabianski seemed to be all over them to get back, who to cover and criticized when they made an error. I liked it. Players, especially our defenders need someone on the pitch to hold them accountable and Fabianksi seemed more than willing to take that on.

Still, as I mentioned pre-game, I am under no delusions of grandeur – there is still a monumental task left in 10 games. If we can seize on this momentum and put together a solid run for 10 games and the likes of Chelsea or Tottenham have a stumble we can make headway. We have to make headway.

I am also not ignorant that last night does very little to erase manyof the lingering questions about this club. In fact I think it raises some more, bigger questions. And the primary one I have to ask – is why does it take a night like last night, with backs seemingly against the wall, to get this kind of commitment out of the squad?

In the end I am proud. In a season when there has been very little to be proud of when it comes to Arsenal a performance like last night, restoring some dignity to such a storied club always makes me proud that I support this club. For now, without any silverware, its what I hold on to. And I’ll take it. You do with it what you want.

Until next time – stay Goonerish.


I truly hate when I forget to put something in a piece and I was so focused on it but can we just acknowledge that Carl Jenkinson is going to be as much the heart and soul of Arsenal as we expect Jack Wilshere to be. 2 years ago plying his trade in League 1 Charlton and now successfully corralling some of the biggest names in European football.

Jenkinson sat for a while this season but every time he has been called up his performances have either been solid or stellar. There have been no abysmal performances from this kid who wears the shirt with the heart and pride that has long been missing. He gets special kudos for last night when after the match he was asked about Arsenal’s 8 years without a trophy by a journalist whom I won’t name and without actually saying Fuck Off essentially told him just that.

Corporal Jenkinson – you deserve a salute. You got it as my MOTM.



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