Thursday, 20 February 2014

Five thoughts on Arsenal 0 Bayern 2

Arsenal 0 Bayern Munich 2

The referee took a massive punt
Whether the rule of giving a penalty and a red card for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity is fair or not, it was entirely moot last night: Wojciech Szczesny did not deny a clear goalscoring opportunity. He fouled Arjen Robben, certainly. But before any contact was made, Robben went to control the ball and a reasonably heavy touch pushed the ball away from the goal, well to the left of the goal-mouth. As Szczesny brings Robben down, two Arsenal defenders come over to cover the goal-line, so that even if he had stayed on his feet and managed to get the ball back under control, it was far from a clear goalscoring opportunity. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, a terrible decision.

But here's the really important thing: even if you buy the argument (which I don't) that it's incredibly hard to judge these things in real time, the ref still then took a massive punt on deciding it was a clear goalscoring opportunity. Given the disproportionate harm to the defending team of taking such a punt - not to mention that he was wrong - it seems a very bizarre thing to do.

And at risk of sounding like a broken record, it continues a long, long run of highly contentious decisions going against us in the Champions League.

Sometimes there's not a lot you can do
There's a completely absurd column from Tony Cascarino in today's Times criticising Arsene Wenger for being tactically inflexible and basically blaming last night's result on this. I know this will annoy a lot of 16 year-old tactical whizz-kids, but sometimes there's not a lot you can do.

An Arsenal win was the least likely result going into the match, before playing 55 minutes a man down. The idea that it was Wenger's tactics which made Arsenal lose is frankly ridiculous.

In reality, by playing very narrow for most of the second half, we actually kept a very good shape. A 1-0 defeat to a brilliant goal while playing a man down would have been quite a good result. Should Mesut Özil have gone off instead of Santi Cazorla? Maybe, it's very hard to say. I think Özil provides more of an attacking threat and you need to continue to offer a threat or the opposition will just throw everybody forward.

The second goal was a disaster
After playing really very well for 87 minutes, the second goal was a real hammer-blow, killing the tie competitively with one swift flick of Thomas Muller's head.

It's particularly galling as it came from our most atrocious phase of play of the night. Laurent Koscielny drove forward from defence, winning a free kick just inside the Bayern half, finally giving us some breathing space. To pass it sideways and retain possession would have been a reasonable option - Arsenal were tired and running the clock down, at least a bit, would have been a reasonable option. To commit five or six players to the box, pushing Bayern back and giving us a goal threat would also have been a sensible choice.

Instead, they chose some sort of middle way - Koscielny went forward, there were maybe two other Arsenal players in the box, and it was easy to defend for Bayern. The lack of defensive organisation then stemmed from it taking Koscielny an age to get back into defence and in my opinion, almost certainly contributed to conceding what was a very soft goal. Bill Clinton might have advocated for a 'third way' but on this occasion it was a bad, bad decision.

The sheer absurdity of the away goals rule
I'm not one for inductive reasoning and obviously four matches is a very small sample size, but in all four Champions League games this week, the away team won, furthering the case that playing away in the Champions League really isn't that great a disadvantage. Given all the other reasons which Jonathan Wilson has gone into about it being a misguided rule, isn't it time it was scrapped?

The myth of Bayern 0 Arsenal 2
The narrative promulgated by the media about Arsenal's victory in Munich last season is that it was borne out of complacency. This really is utter bollocks. Bayern had 21 shots to Arsenal's 8, 9 shots on target to Arsenal's 3. The idea they weren't trying is just untrue. So to therefore claim Arsenal have no chance in the second leg as "Bayern won't make the same mistake again" is just unfair.

What is true is that it was a freaky result - there is no way on the balance of play Arsenal deserved to win 2-0. But Arsenal are now much improved. Score the first goal in Munich and they might get nervous: they were certainly rattled in the first twenty minutes last night.

Keep the faith.

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