Arsenal were poor against Bayern, but need to fight on in England

Lars Baron

Arsenal were deceptively and disappointingly poor in both legs against Bayern Munich, but they still have an excellent opportunity for a fine season.

It was a great tragedy that Thomas Muller missed his penalty last night, thus forcing us to endure the "a draw against the best team in the world!" excuse-a-thon that would follow. Perhaps slightly surprisingly, the press in England have chosen to scapegoat Mesut Özil for his abysmal performance over the two legs against Bayern Munich. A single target is often an easier angle, and less surprisingly, there have been some rather robust defences since.

It's unfair to suggest that he's solely responsible, of course -- nobody came out of it with too much credit -- but it's also not true that the criticism is, in itself, undeserved. It's not even particular to the English press -- L'Equipe awarded the playmaker a princely 2 out of 10 for his display at the Emirates and singled him out for particularly scathing comment. He has simply been bad, and were he removed for Tomas Rosicky for non-injury related reasons, then it would have been perfectly fair.

It would of course be classic gambler's fallacy to suggest that a team has the requisite quality to obtain a certain number of points when the season begins, and that unless they are an invincible side, an early hot streak must necessarily be followed by a collapse and vice-versa. But peaks naturally precede troughs, and injury luck can only last so long, if you can call Arsenal's early-season period of having their key players fit and in-form that. History suggests it would probably be fair to do so.

One truth that appears to have escaped a lot of people is that neither Arsenal nor Bayern Munich were very good in either leg. Arsenal did not perform anywhere near to the best of their abilities -- they looked tired at best and uninterested at worst. Bayern, meanwhile, looked half-bothered themselves -- they coasted at the Emirates, and effortlessly dominated possession at the Allianz Arena without having to work particularly hard.

Whether this is worrying for Bayern or ominous is debatable. They sat on their laurels last year too against Arsenal, but went on to tonk Juventus before giving Barcelona a real shoeing in the semi-final. They've attracted a similar sort of mentality at times in the Bundesliga, common to any side enjoying sterile domination, whether it's Manchester United or Juventus -- while they do undoubtedly have a winning mentality to come back from the dead, sometimes it's simply because they've become respectively powerful and complacent enough that they can regularly afford to go a goal behind and start playing for real from there.

Of course, much has changed since Pep Guardiola's takeover. It could just be that they're not as clinical or as all-conquering as they once were, but they wouldn't be the first team to suffer from a little bit of complacency. Although, interestingly, one of the few dominant teams not to have exhibited such symptoms in recent times would be Barcelona, when they were managed by Guardiola.

For Arsenal, the problem is a lot more worrying. Firstly that they were unable to trouble Bayern at all, and secondly that Bayern did not play at their best in either leg. The caveat of having drawn away against the best team in the world may be technically true, but their opponents coasted and at no point did the tie look close.

It's possible that, with injuries mounting, fatigue could be playing a large part. Loss of form to the likes of Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini and Olivier Giroud have played a part, as well as Özil's failure to find it in the first place, but they have all played a lot of games. Not enough that lack of effort should be a contributing factor to a defeat in a Champions League knockout game against the current champions, but as they say on the continent, what can a soldier do who charges when out of breath?

Arsenal have a way to go before they can challenge for the Champions League. Nobody would doubt that, and nobody would have thought otherwise even when the club were looking title favourites. They need to organise a more solid midfield and defence and they need a top-class striker, along the way to finding the nebulous belief and spirit.

Injuries are now posing another threat, with another defensive injury perhaps being fatal to Arsenal's chances of winning the league, with the FA Cup far from a lock either despite the weak opposition remaining in the tournament. If Tuesday night's performance was, as some claimed, a source for a real morale boost for the rest of the season, the body language of the players certainly didn't suggest so. But Arsenal now have an opportunity better than they have had for a long time to win the double. Chelsea are distracted in Europe and Manchester City cannot trust their squad players, while Liverpool are defensively poor and could be scuppered by a single injury.

The coming weeks will probably determine how the game has affected morale -- despite the absentees, Arsenal are still good enough to pose a considerable threat to the rest of the title-chasers. Up until recently, they've managed to keep an extraordinary number of players in form, a feat which will be difficult to replicate. They may be a work in progress, but they still can't afford to pass up an opportunity like this one.

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