Bayern Munich 0-2 Arsenal: We Went Out on Our Shield

I freely admit that before the match, I had never dreaded watching an Arsenal match nearly as much as I have this one. Given how badly they tonked us at home, given how tactically inept we generally are and the missing bodies that we had, I thought this may be a cricket score. I don't mean that 20-20 one-day shit either, I mean the 5-day test international kind.

The big news was that Wojceich Szczesny was not only benched, he was left home in London entirely. Such was my state of mind that I theorized on a message board I post at that Lukasz Fabianski was playing only to prevent Szczesny from having this battering on his psyche, in much the same way that the home 0-5 loss to Chelsea in the the 1998-99 League Cup destroyed Alex Manninger's career.

Oh, and also that Jack Wilshire guy didn't play.

On the other hand, Thomas Vermaelen also didn't get into the starting XI, so that was progress. Kieran Gibbs returned, Laurent Koscielny slotted into central defense, with a midfield three of Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky. The rest of the team essentially picked itself.

Anyway, if you had told me that this match would have a goal in the third minute, I would have asked "Oh, who on Bayern scored it?"  Instead, the home side found themselves picking the ball out of the net before they could find their bearings in the game.

It all came from nothing, too. A Bayern player won a long ball, but there was no one to pick up the scraps. It bobbled to Koscielny instead, who played it quickly up to Cazorla. The little Spaniard played it first time up to Ramsey with a lovely flick of the boot. The Welshman ran at the Munich backline with purpose, and shifted it to Rosicky as the red shirts converged on him. Tommy wasted no time playing it wide to Theo Walcott, as David Alaba fell over. Half the Bayern defense swarmed towards Walcott, while the other half ball-watched. That allowed Theo to cut it back across the face of goal to Olivier Giroud, who had slipped in unnoticed. He emphatically hammered his shot into the roof of the net, with Manuel Neuer stranded in the Bayern goal.

You would think the teams swapped shirts before the opening whistle.

Bayern did recover quickly though, and Fabianski was called into action a minute later to get behind a tame long-range shot. The match quickly settled into passive domination from the home side, though they rarely threatened. A few long-range shots were comfortably handled by our reserve keeper, but that was the sum total of their contribution to the half. It must be said that Arsenal were much better defensively than they have been since the first two matches of the season. The suicidally-high line was abandoned for a more sensible withdrawn defense, and Koscielny was excellent in place of our erstwhile captain.

A special mention has to go to the goalkeeper though. As I mentioned, I thought he was only playing as a sacrificial lamb. His previous inability to perform a minimally-acceptable level has been well-documented. But, he was absolutely fantastic today. He was everything that he had not been before - decisive, confident, fundamentally-sound and a serious vocal presence behind the defense. It was apparent even in his body language - I don't know what's gotten into him in his long absence, but if it continues then frankly Szczesny has to be on the bench for the Swansea game.

That said, I do feel that the home side were somewhat there for the taking, and as good as the result ended up being, this was there to be won. Especially in the first half, Walcott and Ramsey were found wanting on the offensive side of the ball. Passes were misplaced with disturbing frequency, and better performances from the two of them may have seen us through to the quarterfinals.

However, in fairness to Bayern, they were better in the second half and they carved us open a few times. If Arjen Robben in particular had his shooting boots on, we might have conceded the goal that would have ended the tie prematurely. The Dutchman had a glorious chance in the 65th minute when he was put through clean on goal, but Fabianski did brilliantly to stand his ground and parry the shot away. Since we're on the subject,  Toni Kroos is another who will be thankful that Arsenal could not find a third goal.

As time ticked along, it became apparent just how unfortunate the risible joke of the first leg was. Even if we had lost 2-1, we'd have gone through. I'll spare you my usual rant as to how tactically inept we were on that day, but one can't help imagining what could have been if we had a manager who didn't need until mid-March to work out that perhaps TV5 should sit, and that maybe we don't have the personnel for a high line.

I won't even get into the fact that Gervinho came on as a sub in this game.

Sadly for us, the second goal came too late to let it sink in for Bayern mentally that they were in trouble. It was nice when it came - Koscielny doing exceptionally well to nod in a corner kick despite Javi Martinez being draped all over him. Had that come 10 or 15 minutes earlier though, it might have triggered Bayern's gag reflex. As it happened though, the home side were able to comfortable see out the last few minutes.

So, once again, Arsenal manage to recover from a hideous first leg just enough to make it interesting without progressing. Once again, it calls into question why we can't play a decent enough first leg to not have to need a ridiculous miracle to go through, and it also makes me wonder why we can win 2-0 at the Allianz but somehow lose in the FA Cup to a team that couldn't beat Millwall at home.

I do feel better about our chances of getting 4th place, but make no mistake - this does not make me believe for one nanosecond that the rot isn't still deep inside our setup. I would still give half my soul to see Stan Kroenke on a one-way rocket to the Sun.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Fabianski 8, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 7, Jenkinson 7, Ramsey 6 (Gervinho 6), Arteta 5, Cazorla 7, Rosicky 6, Walcott 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 6), Giroud 7

Man of the Match: I don't know what odds you could have gotten before the match but Lukasz Fabianski came out of nowhere to play perhaps the best match of his life.