Had Daniel Levy given Andre Villas-Boas the striker and midfielder he needed last summer, then Spurs would surely have finished above Arsenal. This was a predictable collapse...
The events of the past week have set up an exciting summer in the Premier League, but first, will Spurs leave it late on the final day? And Benitez deserves lots of credit...
An excellent performance to overcome AC Milan and dismiss the knee-jerkers claiming the end is nigh for this magnificent Barcelona side. Their form has certainly slipped in recent weeks, with many seemingly forgetting Tito Vilanova's unfortunate absence, but Barca rounded on their critics with a stunning display to despatch Milan.
"We achieved our objective. To date it was one of the most complete games we've played," said Andres Iniesta.
"We had an obligation to try and fight back and that's what we did."
With David Villa restored to the starting line-up, Barcelona brushed off the cobwebs of their insipid attacking performance in Milan to carve open their opponents at will. Villa's goal, which gave Barca the lead for the first time in the tie, was a particularly enjoyable moment as the striker released his injury frustration in an emotional celebration.
The La Liga leaders were typically tenacious, refusing to allow Milan time or space on the ball until nerves began to creep in at 3-0. Caretaker coach Jordi Roura admitted that "frankly it was pretty difficult when we were up 3-0 and it seemed as though Milan could have scored from any play" and Robinho came close to finding a crucial away goal after excellent work from Bojan.
Barcelona's clean sheet against Deportivo La Coruna at the weekend was their first in 14 matches and although they prevented Milan from scoring on Tuesday, there were several nervy moments that will give encouragement to their opponents in the quarter-final. M'Baye Niang should have scored for Milan in the first half following a simple long ball that Javier Mascherano failed to deal with effectively.
It was noticeable that Barcelona became more composed when the Argentine was replaced by Carles Puyol in the final ten minutes and Puyol's fitness will be a key factor in the 2006, '09 and '11 champions progressing further in the tournament.
Here's hoping for a Barcelona v Borussia Dortmund quarter-final when the draw is made on Friday.
Barcelona's Duracell rabbit. Alba didn't once stop for breath on Tuesday and was involved in two key moments in the final stages - his goal that killed the tie and the crucial challenge on Robinho in the penalty area to deny Milan.
So close but yet so far. As Mikel Arteta said, perhaps with another ten minutes Arsenal could have found the third goal to complete a truly remarkable turnaround. Instead they are left to rue a naive first-leg performance as Bayern march on to the quarter-finals for the second year in a row while the Gunners remain stalled at the last-16 stage.
Defensively, it was a composed display from Arsenal and they looked far more assured without captain Thomas Vermaelen in the back four. Laurent Koscielny had one of his better nights alongside Per Mertesacker and Bayern were largely limited to shots from distance, which made for quite frustrating viewing. Only one of Arjen Robben's seven attempts hit the target and, combined with his aimless dribbling, it was clear to see why he's no longer the main man in Munich.
It was a match in which both teams struggled to get into their stride owing to the absence of key players and Olivier Giroud's early goal seemed to confuse everyone on the pitch as to what the gameplan was now. Bayern missed Franck Ribery's roving presence and far more intelligent use of the ball on the left, while Bastian Schweinsteiger also left a noticeable hole in central midfield. Arsenal, meanwhile, would have stood a much better chance of completing their unlikely task had Jack Wilshere not been ruled out. Tomas Rosicky's passing was often rather wayward and Wilshere's ability to take a game by the scruff of the neck, as he did against Brazil in England's recent friendly, may have proved the difference on a lacklustre night for Bayern.
Arsenal started brightly with a lovely flowing move for Giroud's opening strike. Aaron Ramsey made an excellent run behind the midfield and was found with a delightful pass from Santi Cazorla. It was a purposeful attack full of vim and vigour and ended with Giroud evading both Bayern centre-backs. But instead of setting up an enthralling encounter, the opening goal spelled an end to a compelling spectacle as both teams struggled to ascertain what they were supposed to do next.
Although much of the focus beforehand had been on whether Arsenal could snatch an early goal, it appeared that neither Bayern or the Gunners thought it was actually possible. Rather than mount further forceful attacks, Arsenal waited for Bayern's next move, while the Bayern team gave each other knowing looks with previous chokes in mind. It made for a rather strange game, with Arsene Wenger's side scoring two goals from only two shots on target and averaging a pass completion rate ten per cent below their season average.
It's tempting to say that it was another example of Arsenal performing when the pressure is off, as we have seen on several occasions in the Premier League this season such as the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and 2-1 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford. But even the 2-2 draw with Liverpool has previously been brought into this argument, when the pressure was very much on in front of an Emirates crowd dismayed by the team losing at home to inferior opposition.
The pressure is never really 'off' and the Gunners' best performers on Wednesday were the five men in defence (including Lukasz Fabianski) who certainly didn't escape the standard examination from Bayern's talented attack. There was pressure not to lose the match 4-0 and surrender to further embarrassment, which was achieved, while there was also pressure to really stretch their opponents at the back to find the second goal before it was too late - a task in which they failed. So perhaps it makes more sense to say that Arsenal are better at earning results when they are forced to come from behind (even if it is only a 1-0 second-half victory in a match in which they have already conceded twice).
The important thing now is to ensure that Wednesday's victory means something in the long term. Wenger was only rewarded with half of his pre-match desire for a 'big result' and a 'big performance' but we can certainly say that the team went about their duties "without being silly". Whether Arsenal are a different animal is yet to be seen. Nothing changed following the 3-0 victory over AC Milan last year and as Nick Miller says here, there is a danger of saying 'We did enough'.
This was a theme that occurred to me before the match, with Vermaelen gaining inspiration (which was ultimately fruitless as he spent the night on the bench) from last year when the Gunners "almost" overturned their 4-0 defeat to AC Milan. Of course, it's important to take the positives out of that performance, especially before a similar challenge, but Arsenal's lasting lesson from their exit in 2011/12 should be to acknowledge that they simply weren't good enough. Now they are left with two 'nearly' nights in two seasons.
Clearly Arsenal aren't as bad as either of their two first-leg displays against Bayern and AC Milan, but neither are they as good as the secong-leg results suggest. In truth they are somewhere in the middle, which is exactly the point where they start to play and express their quality. The aim now for Wenger is to ensure Arsenal take the lead in such challenges rather than waiting until hope is all but lost. 'Allow us to have belief' was the manager's message before Wednesday's tie, but Gooners are right to demand that belief is founded on more consistent evidence. There was little to believe following a crushing defeat in the first leg and only four points from a possible 21 against the five teams above them in the Premier League this season.
One appearance this season and the only keeper to manage a clean sheet against Bayern Munich.
The fairytale continues in their Champions League debut after Isco and Roque Santa Cruz scored to send Malaga into the quarter-finals.
"An achievement like this seemed impossible only a short time ago. It is a dream for everyone here," said Isco after the match.
"We came out of the blocks with a lot of intensity because that is what this tie demanded of us. We then settled into the match and showed what we were capable of."
Malaga will have to be at their very best to stand a chance of reaching the semi-finals, but their combative style with flourishes of brilliance from Isco is entertaining to watch. They have already beaten Real Madrid at La Rosaleda this season as well as drawing 2-2 with Barcelona at Camp Nou, and after their run in the Champions League thus far they will be confident of asserting themselves in the next round.
Liverpool fans were hopeful of a move for Isco in January's F365 Transfer Blog, but the 20-year-old Spain international will surely be setting his sights higher following his performances this season. A big move in the summer awaits, with the future of Manuel Pellegrini possibly deciding his destination.
Still tied with Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the goalscoring chart after his eighth strike of the competition against Schalke.
A huge effort to make it this far, but Schalke were one of the easier opponents in the last 16 and it's incredibly unlikely that Galatasaray will progress past the quarter-final stage. Along with Malaga, and possibly PSG, they will be seen as a favourable draw.
The Rossoneri will be bitterly disappointed after throwing away what seemed a commanding two-goal lead from the first leg. Barcelona were always going to pose a huge threat to Milan at Camp Nou, but Massimiliano Allegri will be irked by his team's occasionally slack defending and failure to make the most of their own chances at the other end of the pitch.
It has been a mixed tournament for Milan. They progressed from Group C with only eight points after failing to beat Anderlecht and losing to Malaga and Zenit St Petersburg, but gave an excellent performance at the San Siro to beat Barcelona 2-0. Tuesday will have been a tiring night and Allegri's focus now is to ensure Milan maintain their revival in Serie A to qualify for next season's tournament. A straightforward home match against crisis club Palermo on Sunday should ease them back into the challenge.
Wake-up call. Wake-up call. Wake-up call.
"We have to look at this game in a very critical manner. The early goal for Arsenal was obviously just what they were looking for. We had the better chances in this game, but lacked clinical finishing and weren't as calm as we usually are."
Juup Heynckes was distinctly unimpressed with Bayern's efforts against Arsenal and the manager will be wary of another choke from his side in the quarter-finals. Bayern have a habit of blowing it in big matches and they will hope to avoid Real Madrid, Barcelona and Dortmund (who they have beaten only once in the last eight meetings) in Friday's draw.
'The Premier League Is In Decline'
There are no Premier League teams involved in the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 1995/96. But does this point to decline or domination?
The standard overreaction is to suggest that Premier League clubs are on their knees, preparing to be whipped by their rivals across Europe for the foreseeable future. There are certainly signs of some decline - especially at Arsenal and Chelsea - but it is too early to tell whether English clubs have truly been overtaken or if this is merely a blip.
Most of the discussion hinges on sample size. In this season and last only one Premier League team has reached the quarter-finals, with Chelsea going on to win the tournament last May. But if we expand further, five of the last ten finalists have been from England (as well as two from Spain, two from Germany and one from Italy) and three of the last eight winners (three from Spain, two from Italy). In the 16 seasons preceding this there have been 32 Premier League teams in the quarter-finals, 28 Spanish, 21 Italian and 17 German.
In 2005/06, Arsenal, who went on to lose in the final, were England's only representatives at the quarter-final stage after Liverpool and Chelsea were knocked out in the last 16 and Manchester United finished bottom of a group that included Lille, Benfica and Villarreal. The next year there were four English sides in the last 16 and three in the semi-finals. 2005/06 was a blip from which Premier League clubs immediately recovered and there isn't a great deal of compelling evidence to say that this year will be any different.
Rather than saying 'The Premier League is in decline' it's better to look at the individual circumstances of its representatives in the Champions League. The main reason for Manchester City's struggles is their poor seeding owing to a lack of European football in recent years. Roberto Mancini's tinkering also played a part in City's failure this season, but would the manager have been punished for his mistakes so ruthlessly in a group that didn't contain Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid?
Despite Chelsea's victory last season, they only finished sixth in the Premier League and are currently in a significant period of transition. It's little surprise that they found it difficult to cope with a change of style in Europe following Didier Drogba's departure in the summer and, lest we forget, Juventus were unbeaten in their Scudetto victory last year while Shakhtar hadn't lost in 37 matches before their 3-2 defeat to the Blues at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea faced two very strong teams and were knocked out on the head-to-head rule despite having a better goal difference than Shakhtar. It's naive to think that other clubs across Europe don't also go through cycles of strength that can coincide with points of relative weakness for English clubs.
In Sir Alex Ferguson's latest cycle at United, the team are on an upward curve, underlined by their record Premier League points total at this stage of the season. They played two very tight matches against last year's La Liga winners, with both sides at their best when counter-attacking. If Nani hadn't been sent off in the second leg, United would surely have reached the quarter-finals. It was clear that Jose Mourinho had no answer to breaking them down at Old Trafford in the same way he failed in his task at the Santiago Bernabeu and even the Real Madrid manager admitted that his team were fortunate to win the tie.
It seems Arsenal are the only team whose decline is a real concern, with Arsene Wenger voicing his worries over the strength of the Premier League after the Gunners' 2-0 victory over runaway Bundesliga leaders Bayern.
"It is a long time since that happened (no PL club in quarter-finals) that means the rest of Europe has caught up on us," said Wenger.
"We have to take that into consideration when we think about the future of the Premier League. It is a massive disappointment for English football, for a number of years we are not used to that.
"It is a massive wake-up call for us because we had Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and us all out before the quarter-finals."
It may be a wake-up call in some respects, but at this stage there is no reason to ring the alarm. Italian football was embarrassed on the night Arsenal thrashed Inter 5-1 at the San Siro in 2003. In 2010 Inter became the first Italian team ever to win the treble. Last Thursday they were thrashed by the fourth-best team in England last season. Clubs grow stronger and weaker in cycles, which is often more evident in Europe as United have shown during Ferguson's tenure. There are so many factors involved - where would Liverpool be now if it weren't for Hicks and Gilllett? - and to scream decline just a year after Chelsea won the tournament for the first time (they didn't do it in style, but what does that say about the capabilities of their opponents?) is clearly an overreaction.
England are currently second in the coefficient rankings, around six points behind Spain, which is no surprise considering that the current Barcelona team is one of the greatest of all time. The drop to Italy, who have only three Champions League places, is an enormous 17 points, which could increase owing to the participation of three English clubs in the later stages of the Europa League (meanwhile Napoli, second in Serie A, were thrashed 5-0 by Czech side Viktoria Plzen to crash out in the last round).
Of course, other teams around Europe are expected to strengthen further in the summer (PSG have a fortune to spend, Bayern will welcome Pep Guardiola) but it is incredibly likely we will see at least one English club back in the quarter-finals in next year's tournament. For now, we can simply enjoy the great sides that are left to fight it out for this year's trophy.
It hasn't been a great season for the Arsenal captain and he was left out of the starting line-up for one of the biggest matches of the campaign. Despite his recent performance against Spurs, it probably wasn't easy for Wenger to drop his captain, but it was a wise move that paid off.
Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.
Thats harsh on Vermaelen, I though he had one of his better nights last night.- dryice