Unplugged Germans just adequately irresistible
Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna (front) collides with Bayern Munich’s David Alaba during their Champions League round of 16 first leg match at the Emirates Stadium in London. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters
Bayern Munich, for all their possession, were only adequately irresistible at the Emirates, but it is simply a measure of their coherence, that sense of top-down strength in reserve, that a 2-0 away victory that saw the entire second half played out as a neck-cramping assault on the home goal could be seen as a moderate result under the circumstances.
As it was, a year on from the 3-1 victory here that announced the shrilling three-month surge this was a case of Bayern unplugged, no more than adequately irresistible as they pushed back depleted Arsenal.
It was a shame that the match was ultimately dampened by a debatable refereeing decision that saw Woijchec Sczesny sent off in the first half, as this was an agreeably widescreen occasion from the start on a cold, still North London night.
This Bayern team has a distinct, almost self-conscious air of unhurried all-star conviction about it, and they were on the attack immediately here,
Toni Kroos, who doesn’t so much run as trot like a cosseted pony, drawing a fine leaping one-handed save from Szczesny. After which, briefly, it was all Arsenal.
In fact, Arsenal started like Bayern have tended to start in this competition, producing in the first 15 minutes their snappiest, most relentlessly mobile, football.
Wilshere was bright, twice picking out Santi Cazorla acutely before producing the nutmeg and nudged through pass that allowed Ozil to win so beautifully the penalty he would then miss so horrendously, sending Manuel Neuer the right way before effectively placing the ball on to his outstretched palm.
Bayern weathered the storm with a little luck and a familiar sense of strength in reserve. The champions have played six and won six since their winter break and played five fewer matches than Arsenal since the start of December, lending them a freshness that is vital to that hard-running, high-pressing, physically relentless style.
And this is really the key to this Bayern team, who can pass the ball like Barcelona, who can drop the pace and hide the ball as they did here in the first half after that early scare, Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara steadily conducting possession in the middle of the pitch and Lahm and David Alaba pushing fearlessly up the pitch from full back.
But they have above all the ability to surge, a collective stretching of the legs like a 10,000 metre runner destroying the field by producing from nowhere a leg cramping mid-race time.
Slowly they pushed Arsenal back as half time approached, with a Guardiola-hallmarked fluidity in the constant exchange of flanks by Arjen Robben and Mario Gotze.
It was the familiar Robben dart inside from the right that led to Szczesny’s sending off, a straight red card for denying a clear-ish goalscoring opportunity The ball was running away from Robben.
The goalkeeper had no choice but to challenge, A yellow card and a penalty would have been enough. Alaba’s run up was loose and his side foot against the post always a little uncontrolled.
Guardiola moved Lahm into the middle at the start of the second half, introducing a little extra drive and authority as the Bayern surge duly arrived. Nine minutes of relentless, smothering Bayern attack was enough, the goal beautifully struck by Kroos, taking a pass from Rafinha and very precisely persuading the ball into the top corner with his right foot.–