End of the road. That’s the feeling after the final whistle went in this morning’s defeat to Bayern Munich. A 3-1 home defeat left us with a very huge task in the return leg. As much as I want to be positive about things, with the state of the current squad, it is hard to see us managing to win by 3 goals or more at the Allianz Arena. Bayern are the best we’ve faced this season and the contrast between both sides leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
There are many theories as to when we’ve started to slip and the reasons why we are no longer one of the feared sides in Europe. You can find that with ease using the power of an internet search, which we won’t go to great lengths here. What makes this defeat different from the other ones which we have suffered this season, is that this wasn’t because of a lack of effort. It was because of the stark difference in quality between both sides.
Perhaps one can throw in the sense of familiarity to the reason why we lost. Familiarity in the sense that this Bayern side has been building and improving for some time now while we are in a constant state of rebuilding. Players in new positions (forced or tactical) meant that even during the course of the match, there was some adjustment that needed to be made. Thomas Vermaelen at left back and Theo Walcott as a striker, gave another indication why those can’t be our long term solutions. For that matter, neither is Mikel Arteta as the base of our midfield.
Arsene Wenger once again reiterated the mental strength of the team prior to the match and once again, we were found out in that regards. We started the match as we meant to but as soon as we conceded the opening goal, that strength fell apart. You could sense the fear and inhibitions amongst the players. Almost felt as if they were thinking – “oh no, here we go again”. Another early goal conceded and we went into a shell. Before long, what was a hill, became a mountain. Bayern scored their second and Szczesny’s poor attempt at a parry left Muller with the easiest of tap-ins.
Bayern were dictating the game and there was little we could do about it. Their movement and interchange of positions caused us a lot of trouble but that wasn’t the most impressive part about them. The way they tracked back and were quick to pressure us, when without the ball, deserves praise. It is a trait which so many of the best teams in the world have, these days. The willingness to chase and harry to win possession back quickly and deny the opponents time to dictate the tempo of the match. We resorted to silly fouls and racked a up a fair few yellow cards.
At half time, I feared a hammering and could not see how we could come back into the match. Somehow spirits were raised in the dressing room at half time and we came out looking like a much better side. While we didn’t pepper Neuer’s goal with continuous shots, we did keep possession much better and limit what Bayern could do with their attack. A goal was gifted to us as the referee somehow signalled for a corner kick when it wasn’t. For once, Bayern didn’t clear their lines and Podolski pulled one back for us.
That gave us hope, perhaps a tiny one but hope nonetheless. Another goal and it will be all to play for in Munich in 3 weeks’ time. Still wouldn’t make our chances any brighter but doesn’t make it close to impossible. Things could have been different had Giroud not hit his shot so cleanly that it hit Neuer’s hand. That would have made it 2-2 with momentum very much with us. However, it was not to be as our foray forward left gaps at the back and Bayern benefited from it. Robben’s trickery and pace created the opening and Mandzukic scored their 3rd and final goal of the night.
That used to be us as well. Exerting quality at the beginning and grabbing the early goals. Then slowing down because we thought the game was over. As the opponent threatens to level the game, we step up another notch and find another goal to kill the game off. Nowadays, we are on the receiving end of such tactic. Which normally could only be done when there’s a big gap between the qualities of the two teams. That itself, was more depressing than the actual defeat to Bayern.
So, in all likelihood, we are heading out of yet another competition. Though, the pain of this potential exit doesn’t half compare with the other two cup competitions. I’m sure what was obvious to us, was also obvious to the manager (even though he did say otherwise in the post-match conference). That this side is not good enough to compete with the best in Europe. What makes it sad, is that we were once able to, for at least 90 minutes.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting us to beat Bayern and qualify for the next stage. The challenge for the rest of the season remains on getting us into the Champions League spot. To ensure that the club doesn’t suddenly minimise our capacity to spend because we’re playing in the Europa League. 3 weeks is a long wait to officially exit the Champions League.