Arsenal and Bayern Munich are familiar foes, having played each other seven times in the last four seasons alone, at the group and R-16 stages of the UEFA Champions League. Therefore, you had at least one reason to believe in potentially witnessing a contest.
From Arsenal’s perspective, though, Bayern are their nemesis, to whom they have now lost four of their last seven meetings, winning two and drawing one of the other three. And, on Wednesday night, the North Londoners suffered their heaviest defeat to the German champions, in terms of the consequences of the result and the psychological damage it has caused them.
Astonishing is the word for Arsenal’s implosion after Robert Lewandowski rose above Shkodran Mustafi to head Philipp Lahm’s delicious cross past David Ospina and give his team a 2-1 lead. We were genuinely astonished, despite taking into account the hegemony Bayern Munich have had over Arsenal and how they were, at the very least, expected to win the first leg at the Allianz Arena.
You probably couldn’t fathom the many holes that appeared in the Arsenal defence and I couldn’t either. The visitors had gotten themselves an away goal and so, a 2-1 or 3-1 defeat would not have been the end of the world ahead of the second leg at the Emirates Stadium on 7th March. But Arsenal allowed their world-beating opponents time on the ball and plenty of space in the middle and on the flanks to manoeuvre into and destroy them.
While Arsene Wenger deserves credit for keeping the Gunners in the Champions League year on year and getting them into the R-16 stage too, he and his team do not seem to have learnt from their previous defeats and have an idea about the approach they should take for games as huge as Wednesday night’s was.
Yes, the Arsenal starting XI was by no means intimidating and the Bavarian behemoths were head and shoulders above them. Wenger too, in his post-match presser, concurred to this, saying “overall I must say they [Bayern] are a better team than us”. But you have come to expect better from a team like Arsenal.
So, what was wrong and how much is Arsene Wenger to blame for the eventual 5-1 defeat to Bayern?
Bayern Munich vs Arsenal 2017: Arsene Wenger’s Role in 5-1 Defeat
After 20 years in a stressful and scrutinised role as a football manager’s is, anyone can become jaded and unspirited. And I think Wenger, 67, has reached a phase in his managerial career where he probably cannot evolve, not that he doesn’t want to.
Going back to Wednesday night, Wenger spent most of the 93 minutes either sat in the dug-out or, at best, standing in his technical area without passing on instructions to his players.
You can ask, “Has the French manager lost the stomach for a fight?”.
But again, he is 67 and the frequency of such defeats is likely to have taken its toll on him. Wenger finds himself in a position where he has no answers to the damning questions hurled at him by Arsenal fans, ex-Arsenal players like Martin Keown and other pundits too.
And, in my opinion, the players aren’t doing Wenger any favours by being naive and too laid back as a unit, particularly in the marquee matches. Arsenal are also bereft of leaders and once Laurent Koscielny trudged off the pitch with a hamstring injury against Bayern, the Gunners had no one to look up to and rally them.
Look, a manager can only do so much before and during a match, but the players must be able to think on their feet and react to the match situation. Thinking on your feet and responding appropriately to a match situation are necessary qualities for a professional footballer and Arsenal’s players failed to exude the qualities that are expected of them.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, in the 88th minute of the match with Arsenal trailing Bayern Munich by 4-1, inexplicably lost possession just a couple of yards away from the Arsenal penalty area and self-inflicted more damage on himself and his team-mates.
The manner in which Chamberlain ceded possession was strange: the match situation was such that the England midfielder could have just played a 50-60-yard overhead pass; there was no Bayern press and lastly, Arsenal were already a dejected bunch, who simply could not have constructed a meaningful passing move.
So, put simply, what was Chamberlain thinking and how is Wenger to blame for a lackadaisical individual error as Chamberlain’s was?
Bayern’s second and third goals could also be attributed to Arsenal and more specifically Mustafi’s timid defending to let Lewandowski outjump him for the second goal and not see the run of Thiago Alcantara, who ran onto Lewandowski’s cushioned back-heel flick and finish with his first touch to put Bayern 3-1 ahead.
These three instances on Wednesday night clearly explained why Arsene Wenger cannot be entirely blamed for Arsenal losing 5-1 to Bayern Munich.
From the manager’s point of view, though, he could have played his first choice left-back Nacho Monreal, who has been one of Arsenal’s standout players so far this season and probably Mohamed Elneny too, in place of Granit Xhaka. And, in the second half, with the creator-in-chief Mesut Ozil being so ineffective, could Wenger have gone for more muscle and fleet-footedness of Danny Welbeck? He probably should have.
Otherwise, Wenger does not deserve to be chastised for his side’s heavy defeat to Bayern, albeit as the manager he will be blamed and lauded based on his team’s showing. I can understand the fury of the Arsenal supporters, who probably want “Wenger out”, having repeatedly seen their team choke in such big games in recent years and domestically too, they aren’t quite vying for the Premier League title.
The time has probably come for a proper inquest from the Arsenal board and Wenger himself. But in my opinion, the players must take a huge chunk of the blame for not doing the basics right and cutting down on the errors in these marquee fixtures.
What’s your take on Arsenal’s 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich?