Far From A Repeat Of Last Year's Humbling

Although Arsenal suffered a frustrating night in their 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich, Matt Stanger feels there was at least some encouragement for Arsene Wenger...

Last Updated: 19/02/14 at 22:26 Post Comment

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For 37 minutes this was possible. For the first eight, it might even have seemed probable. And then Mesut Ozil struck his spot-kick; no power, no precision, and nothing to show for a confident start. Seasons turn on such moments.

The consolation for Arsenal is that this was far from a repeat of last season's humbling at the Emirates, when Bayern Munich cruised into a two-goal lead inside 21 minutes and then sat back with the job done. The Gunners' chances of victory on Wednesday effectively ended when the sleeping Nacho Monreal missed Arjen Robben's run and Wojciech Szczesny brought the forward down for a penalty. But it was cruel that the second-half resistance, fortified by the memory of last year's famous victory in Munich, was eventually penetrated by Thomas Muller.

"The key for Arsenal is to make sure they are still alive in the second leg," said Gary Neville on Sky Sports as the match kicked off. It was a low bar to set and one that Arsenal chose to ignore. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain driving forward from midfield and surprise selection Yaya Sanogo commanding the final third, the Gunners aimed to take the initiative. Their reward was an early penalty that summed up Ozil's contribution in recent weeks. Sublime skill to create the chance, but no end product.

And then Bayern pressed. Whereas Thomas Vermaelen was seen as the weak link at left-back in this fixture last season, on this occasion the Germans targeted Kieran Gibbs, who was afforded little protection by Santi Cazorla. That Gibbs was forced off through injury and replaced by Monreal only made the problem worse. The Spaniard's performances have been open to criticism this season, and it was his mistake that left Szczesny exposed and now suspended for the second leg.

There is no shame in losing with ten men against the reigning champions of Europe, but that doesn't remove the frustration of suffering defeat in this manner. Two years ago, when Arsenal lost 4-0 to AC Milan at this stage of the competition, Arsene Wenger bemoaned his "worst night in Europe". On Wednesday he could have been celebrating one of his best, had Ozil scored from the spot to capitalise on a pulsating opening period. "I think we are in much better mental shape than we were a year ago," said Wenger before the game. But when it mattered most, Ozil's resolve was absent.

Last year's win in Munich offers faint hope that Arsenal can recover the tie, but it is unlikely Bayern will be so complacent this time around. Instead, Wenger must now focus on reigniting the Gunners' Premier League challenge following the heavy defeat to Liverpool and the dispiriting draw with Manchester United. There were glimpses on Wednesday - and in the FA Cup victory over Liverpool - that the team can return to the quick, counter-attacking displays that made them so ruthless and so enjoyable to watch in the first few months of the campaign. If those glimpses can be developed into something more over the next two weeks, the gauntlet of March may not seem so terrifying.

Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.

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