19 February 2014

Arsenal 0-2 Bayern: Two goals. Really? Is that all?

After nearly going blind reading of how magnificent Bayern are and how they've steamrolled their way to 46 consecutive wins in the Bundesliga, and after doing my best to ignore headline after headline that bleated something about the first leg from last year, I had all but backed myself into a corner, fearing yet another hiding at the feet of these beastly Bavarians. For as much as I had tried to convince myself otherwise, the small but insistent voices kept whining away at me. Turns out it was my kids asking me to stop with all the reading and the typing. Having put them to bed, I could then hear the voice inside my own head warning me of how catastrophic the match would turn out to be when, for the second time in little more than ten days, we'd be utterly humiliated and exposed as the frauds we are.

Now, Mr. Robben, in this scene, fall like a man whose
leg was been shattered in a million pieces. Ready?
It didn't come off that way. Well, not as badly as it was made out to, at least. While Bayern came out firing and very nearly scored straight off, so too did we, not least of which was a spot-kick that Özil squandered. Arsène, perhaps optimistically, suggested that we could have gone up 3-0. We certainly had chances and could very well have seized the day.

That is, until Arjen Robben, the Divey Dutchman, had to go and ruin things. The contact and the foul were there, clear as day, but it rankled me to see him twirl, flop, and writhe so much. I can see a penalty-kick awarded, and a yellow for the keeper, but it seemed clear enough that Szczesny was going for the ball to the same extent that Robben was. Still, the rule is there. It's a crummy rule. Then again, we were smirking at Liverpool's irritation at Webb just a few days ago, so I'm not going to complain much now, other than to suggest that the rule might merit some reconsideration. At any rate, Alaba missed the kick, offering some slight consolation that we still had a clean-sheet.

What's more, the vaunted juggernaut that is Bayern was left scrounging for goals from the penalty-spot—and failed. Yes, they had created a few other chances by that point, but it wasn't really until they had the man-advantage that the tide turned in their favor. That's right. The most wonderfullest, super-snazziest,systematic, hydromatic, ultramatic team in the world needed a man-advantage to score goals against us. They were brilliant goals, don't get me wrong, but even more than Özil's missed PK, I rued Szczesny getting sent off because that changed the game. Ruined it, in fact, and I don't say that because my side got the shaft. It was a nervy, pulsing match to that point, but it became rather drab afterwards as Bayern probed and passed around until the perfect opportunities presented themselves.

So we lost 0-2. The margin is exactly the same as it was a year ago, as is our task in the second leg if we hope to advance. However, the impact of today's result—for me, at least—is a disinterested shrug. Not because I'd crossed the Champions League from my list of priorities even before this fixture but because I expected so much more from Bayern. After reloading with Guardiola, Alcantara, and Götze, they are arguably stronger than they were last year.

So what if they are? They've caught us at a tentative moment in our own season, and, on top of that, we lost Gibbs on the half-hour and were already without Walcott, we started a 21-year old former Ligue 2 striker with just one other top-flight start to his name, and we played nearly an hour with only ten men. Was 0-2 really the best that Bayern could come up with? Were they content to play keep-away from us, cocksure in the knowledge that we couldn't match up with them? Not if their 26 shots have any say in the matter. I'm sorry, Bayern, but I'm not wowed, cowed, or worried by this result. In fact, I think it's you who are worried—or should be. Despite the considerable advantages handed to you, you've come away exactly as you did last year when we were in a shambles. You could have put us away. You should have snuffed us out, once and for all. Another goal, and the fat lady wouldn't either bother singing.

Instead, you've invited us, reminded us, even, that we can look forward to the second leg. When we last came to Allianz Arena, remember, we were not the team that we are now. We know better what we're capable of, thanks in part to that victory but also to all of the other wins we've amassed since then. No, we're not obliterating opponents in the Prem as you are doing in the Bundesliga. Somehow, I do wonder if you're feasting on small fries, getting fat and soft around the edges. I don't think you have what it takes to have won at the Emirates, eleven-on-eleven. I guess we'll just have to see if you have what it takes to win at Allianz Arena. That's a question both of us already know the answer to, whether you like it or not.

You may have won this battle, but you've started a war. We're not the dispirited, defeated squad that left the pitch forlornly after losing by two goals a year ago. Not by a country mile. Round One goes to you on points. Round Two, I'd wager, might see us win by a knockout.