Last night highlighted Arsenal’s biggest weakness this season, they don’t know how to start games. Be it up-tempo or patient, deliberate football we are skittish, nervous and wasteful. We make rookie mistakes and it costs us chances and sometimes, we concede early goals because of it. This exacerbates the vicious cycle and we start the next game the same – worrying about making mistakes, worrying about conceding an early goal.
It took 7 minutes last night for us to make that mistake. We lost the ball after some needlessly intricate football in our own third. It was a “scabby cross” as Gareth Southgate so eloquently put it, but there was nothing scabby about the way Kroos got over the ball and thumped it into the ground and past a sprawling Sczcesny.
You could see it on our faces. The dismay at conceding a goal so early, for all of Vermaelen’s spouting about keeping it tight and not conceding, there we were one nil down at home against Bayern Munich. Arsenal players started getting frustrated, spiky and started habitual, cynical fouls that noone is proud of, but they showed they were up for the fight.
It came as no surprise that Bayern got a second goal 13 or so minutes after the first with a goal-mouth scramble leaving Thomas Muller to volley past a clambering Sczcesny. If the first goal was “scabby” then the second described our season. A good corner into a dangerous area, Mertesacker was asleep and let Van Buyten get a run on him past Ramsey and flicked towards goal, Sczcesny parried out and Müller reacted first to volley high into the net. It is worth mentioning that anything less than the top of the net and Sczcesny would have saved it – so it was a great snap finish on instinct.
Bayern were strolling, languidly passing the ball about in complete control and it took Jack and Santi to try and ignite our first half. Both of them making lung-bursting runs, harrying, running at players and trying to start something positive. If there is anything positive to come out of the result, Jack and Santi Cazorla are top quality and can mix it with the best. If there was any doubt, it’s been carefully boxed, put in the closet soon to be forgotten.
At half time I tweeted that it was only to be expected (to be 2:0 down) we were playing with 10 men as Podolski had been completely invisible throughout. Lahm had him in his pocket and Podolski couldn’t get free of him. There is something to be said about familiarity, you know each others weaknesses, but it made it easy for Lahm.
In the second half Vermaelen was encouraged to get forward more and more. He started doubling up with Podolski and that really created space for Jack and Santi to play. The real Jack came out to play and Bayern couldn’t get near him. In Jack Wilshire we have a really, really amazing player and I hope he can see that we have the ingredients to do something special with perhaps a few additional signings. I don’t want him to get disillusioned, the power play between him, Santi and Arteta really set the tone for the second half.
It was a deflected free-kick that went out via Podolski (So he was actually there!) that went for an Arsenal corner, great ball in that bounced across the area and with Neuer stranded Podolski strolled and hit a dinked little header into the net, generating all the power on the ball himself. The timing was perfect and we continued to probe and press higher and higher up the pitch chasing the second goal. We had a chance when a great ball forwards from Rosicky (who was excellent when he came on) hit Walcott who took a touch, got into space and crossed to Giroud who had peeled off his man. Giroud hit first time on the volley and hit it a bit too well as it hit Neuer (who didn’t know a lot about it) and came back out.
I just felt then that perhaps a positive result might elude us.
Bayern scored shortly after, with Manzukic bundling the ball into the net, although there are possibilities that Sagna scored it for him. Either way we find ourselves needing to score three goals and keeping a clean sheet in the Allianz-Arena.
Arsène said in his post-match “The quality of my players is there, but they’re not getting their rewards. We’re not being rewarded for our efforts. I still have confidence in my players and in my team. But, on tonight’s evidence, there’s clearly work to be done.” – Hear hear Arsène.
Do I feel confident? Good lord no, but we can take something out of the game. We fought, we got a goal and we looked like we could cause them problems. More of the same attitude in the second leg please and perhaps we might have Gibbs back too. For now though, We have bigger fish to fry.
Saturday brings the Villains, buoyed by recent results we need to be focussed and get the three points. 4th place won’t win itself.