There is no doubt that Bayern Munich was the better team at the Emirates Stadium in London on Wednesday evening, but the performance wasn't all there from the Bavarians. However, a few players really stood out.
Aside from Bild proclaiming that Bayern Munich were the new "Kings of London", the Bavarians' performance left a lot to be desired. The clearest evidence of this was their quite poor passing percentage. Normally, Bayern take pride in the accuracy of their passing, but they left most of that in Munich on Wednesday evening. According to WhoScored.com, Bayern's passing percentage was a measly 79.7%, which is the lowest rate in a Bundesliga or Champions League match since May 2011. While a decent amount of that was down to Manuel Neuer's extremely erratic night in goal, Javi Martinez was well off his normally quality performances.
While Arsenal's lone goal was quite a fluke -- I like to imagine Neuer is still coming up for why he allowed that ball to drop like he did -- Bayern never seemed to get out of second gear after the first half hour. This has been something that has been plaguing the Bavarians for most of the season, and it's still an issue this late into February. Bayern has been at their best in very few contests this season, and their inability to find that form on a regular basis should begin to be a concern.
That's not to say there were no great performances in the match against Arsenal. Here are a few that really stood out.
Watching Philipp Lahm operate up and down the flanks is a form of art. The defender may have lucked out a bit by being on the side of the field where Lukas Podolski was playing, since everyone knows that Podolski rarely, if ever, tracks back, but it didn't matter as Lahm was a class above on the night romping and roaring down the right side.
While watching the first half, I thought that either Arsene Wenger decided that he wanted his team to concede two-thirds of the field to Bayern, or the Bavarians were taking what they wanted and having their way with the London club. Maybe it was a little of both, now that I think about it. Lahm, and David Alaba on the left side also for that matter, seemed to spend as much time in Arsenal's half attacking as they did in their own half defending.
Lahm continues to play at a world class level year after year after year, and yet he never fails to amaze yours truly with the things that he manages to do on the pitch. His galloping run out of the back towards the end of the first half, when he perfectly placed his cross on the head of Mario Mandzukic, was a thing of beauty. If fantastic fullbacks is your thing, Bayern Munich are pleased to provide you with entertainment courtesy of Lahm and Alaba.
Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller
The evolution of Toni Kroos over the last three seasons has been a joy to watch. The 23 year old has become the vital cog in the machine that is the Bayern Munich offense. Jupp Heynckes moved Kroos into the role just behind the striker, and the midfielder has flourished like never before. He has eight goals and seven assists to his name so far, and these numbers will only grow as we continue on in this season. Kroos is one of the best pure strikers of the ball in the game today, and he displayed these abilities early with a seventh minute goal that completely silenced the normally-not-very-loud Emirates Stadium.
There's another 23 year old up top with Kroos, and his name is Thomas Müller. I'm not quite convinced that there is a player in world football that will score goals in a wider variety of ways that Müller. While many will put his goal on Wednesday night down to a "tap-in", it was far more difficult than it looked. When Wojciech Szczesny makes the initial save on Daniel Van Buyten's header, the ball just dangles in the air, inches from being knocked into the Arsenal net. Müller, in the process of falling backwards, has the wherewithal to keep his toes pointed down enough that his shot will angle into the roof of the net. From my perspective, the chances that Müller skies the ball over the net were just as high, if not higher, than him scoring the goal.
Kroos and Müller have gotten better and better every game this season, and with the three perspective competitions coming to a head in the upcoming weeks, the two German internationals will need to be on top of their game as never before.
Maybe it's just me, but does anyone else like this new Arjen Robben we're seeing on the field? Since he's no longer a regular starter, I was concerned that we would begin to see Robben coming in toward the end of matches and then just jacking up shot after shot after shot. He wouldn't care where he was. If he saw a crack of daylight, he was going to let a shot rip. Well, color me pleasantly surprised with what I've been seeing.
Mandzukic's goal today is a prime example of what I'm talking about here. Robben received the ball just outside of the Arsenal penalty area and took two touches while Thomas Vermaelen came toward him. My mind immediately went to where it always goes whenever Robben has the ball at his feet: my friend Bennett. I can hear Bennett's voice in my head now, "Robben will just push the ball to his left and blast a shot, and if they let him score that way, I will scream." I just knew that was what Arjen would do, but the Dutchman surprised me yet again. With Philipp Lahm streaking past him on the right, Robben played the ball into space for Lahm to run on to. Lahm's cross was simple yet perfect, and Mandzukic figured out a way to get it into the net for the third goal.
For some reason, I just don't feel that Robben would've made that past last season. Part of me believes -- no, part of me knows -- that he would have just taken the shot once that little crack of daylight appeared. Not to mention all of the tracking back that he's been doing. Bayern likely prefer this Robben. Bayern likely need this Robben.