Sánchez reduced to a picture of frustration as Arsenal implode

Wenger’s exit music grows louder after Munich capitulation

Alexis Sánchez took the fight to Bayern Munich but was reduced to a picture of frustration as his side were swept away in the second half. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Getty

Alexis Sánchez took the fight to Bayern Munich but was reduced to a picture of frustration as his side were swept away in the second half. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Getty

 

For 15 minutes in Munich this match swung wildly, gloriously – all too briefly – on its axis. In the first half Arsenal were led back into this game by a passage of thrillingly angry, high-energy, centre-forward play from Alexis Sánchez.

For 10 minutes Arsenal’s best player produced something sublime, a passage of raw, angry, high-class attacking play to bring Arsenal right back into this tie at 1-1.

Briefly, en route to another 5-1 thrashing on this ground Sánchez became something else, the embodiment of that howling late Arsène Wenger dissatisfaction at the familiarity of all this, the same script, the same old almost but not quite. And yet by the hour mark Sánchez had already been reduced to an unhappy, strolling spectator, utterly frustrated by the ease with which his side’s defence fell away as Bayern flexed their muscles.

Arsenal played well in patches, or rather in a patch, but yet again they simply lacked the competitive fury to match their centre-forward, who at times as the game melted away was reduced to standing still in the centre circle, shoulders slumped, a man whose mind looked by then to be entirely elsewhere.

Brushed aside

And by the end they were brushed aside in Munich, collapsing early in the second half as Laurent Koscielny left the field, the defence slackened and Robert Lewandowski and the brilliant Thiago Alcântara, twice, scored three times in 10 minutes.

If this was a flaccid defeat it came with that added frustration as for 45 minutes Arsenal were Bayern’s match. Wenger had picked a team packed with speed and athleticism, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi shuttling presences on the flanks.

Bayern’s opening goal came with 11 minutes gone, a thing of real beauty, but also of baffling forehead-slapping frustration. Nine of Bayern’s 11 players were involved, the ball shuttled from the goalkeeper in a careful zig-zag upfield to Arjen Robben in that place on the right he always occupies.

As Arsenal condensed in front of him the winger carried the ball forwards and immediately did something so Robben it was almost hackneyed, cliched. The jink inside. There was almost time for a disbelieving shrug as he took another touch and produced a brilliant curling left-foot shot into David Ospina’s top right-hand corner, a sublime, unstoppable, if startlingly predictable finish.

Arsenal were behind in a last-16 knockout tie to a goal so forewarned and familiar it felt like a glitch.

At the time it felt like a moment to define this tie, the muscle memory of so many other February exits beginning to twitch. At which point, enter Sánchez, hurling himself at the Bayern defence, arms paddling the air, an avenging action man in lime-green boots.

First he drew a free-kick on the edge of the area as Mats Hummels was left trialling by a furious burst of speed. Then, to gasps from the home fans, he scored the equaliser. It from a penalty after Lewandowski had fouled Koscielny. Sánchez’s spot-kick was saved by Manuel Neuer, only to be rescued by a mini-masterpiece: the rebound was air-kicked, the bounce recalibrated, feet adjusted, the ball chested and then spanked back low into the corner.

For for a while Bayern looked rattled. By the end though it was felt like just another glimpse, another alternative ending that never made the cut. Bayern were very good at times, Thiago an elastic, elusive wonder on the ball.

Arsenal were simply Arsenal once again, even on an night when Sánchez provided that brief, tantalising glimpse of something else. Guardian service

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