Arsenal untouchables go missing as Rice, Odegaard and co. exit with a whimper

Will Ford
Odegaard Arsenal
Martin Odegaard went missing for Arsenal against Bayern.

Mikel Arteta may chalk that up as good experience for Champions League novices, but Arsenal’s big players went missing in their biggest game of the season. They whimpered when they needed to roar.

Eight members of Bayern’s 2020 Champions League-winning squad remain and the vast majority of the players that weren’t around four years ago also have significant experience in the competition.

Arsenal’s is a team of relative novices other than the pair signed from Chelsea: Kai Havertz, who scored the winner in the 2021 final, and Jorginho, who was named player of the tournament that year. Experience told, or so everyone will claim.

Jorginho was always likely to be key for Arsenal at the Allianz Arena. Tasked with starting attacks from deep and shackling Bayern’s main threat in Jamal Musiala, he did both admirably, setting Ben White away with a pinpoint through ball in the first half with which the right-back should have done more, and largely keeping an extraordinarily slippy customer in Musiala quiet.

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Chasing the game as they were after Kimmich gave Bayern a 3-2 aggregate lead, Jorginho was the obvious man to to make way for Gabriel Jesus, with fellow midfielders Declan Rice and Martin Odegaard offering goal threats that are beyond Jorginho. But Arsenal really missed the Italian’s experience and wiles after he left the action, as the Gunners’ untouchables provided nothing of note in the last half-hour of the biggest game of their season.

Kimmich’s goal had been coming. Bayern went up a gear after half-time as Arsenal failed to get going again. Raphael Guerreiro’s ball in was decent and so was the header, but it all felt far too easy: no pressure on the cross; no one tracking Kimmich’s run.

And from there it was plain sailing for Bayern. Konrad Laimer and Leon Goretzka, both on the wrong end of heavy criticism for their displays for the German giants this season, dominated Rice and Odegaard, who have been brilliant for much of this campaign, but went missing when it really mattered.

Rice was twice beaten on the ball by Musiala after responsibility for the 21-year-old had been passed to him, and this was a performance of Rice from five years ago, all sideways passes and caution rather than the rangy running and progression we’ve become accustomed to in his latter West Ham days and this season for Arsenal.

Frustrated in the second half, Odegaard dropped deep to get on the ball but was just as ineffective from there as he had been in his more typical space in the pocket behind Bukayo Saka, whom the captain couldn’t get anything going with.

Saka completed none of his three attempted dribbles. Odgeaard lost possession five times, the most of anyone on the pitch apart from Gabriel Martinelli, who spurned it on seven occasions. They were all off it.

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Arsenal had just nine shots in the game, and incredibly, just one in the 30 minutes having gone behind, a period in which Bayern had eight.

It’s not that they bottled it – there was no capitulation and they weren’t embarrassed. It was more that they didn’t seem to have any idea how they were going to win the game, and faced with adversity, they went into their collective shell. They whimpered when they needed to roar.

Mikel Arteta values intensity and aggression in his Arsenal team, but that was entirely lacking in the second half in particular.

“Now how we react to it, that’s going to be key,” Arteta said after their 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa on Sunday, adding that the Bayern clash represented the “perfect game for a reaction”. He can’t have been impressed.

Bayern are a good team with good players, and Thomas Tuchel is a Champions League expert. But had Arsenal played anywhere close to their best they would have won this game. Because for all their quality, Bayern have just been trounced in the Bundesliga. Their confidence is brittle, and a head of steam at any point across the 180+ minutes would have seen Arsenal run away with it.

Arteta may well chalk this up as good experience for a squad that’s not got much of it to call upon. But the facts are having sneaked through against Porto in the last 16, they’ve come against a half-decent team and been comfortably seen off. That was really poor from Arsenal, and no amount of inexperience can account for a performance being quite so limp.

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