A shocking mistake from Manuel Neuer gifted a second-half goal to Olivier Giroud, leading Arsenal to surprise many and beat Bayern Munich, 2-0. The Germans had dominated the run of play, but couldn't convert that dominance into a goal, and Arsenal finally got their first Champions League win of the season.
While much of the match may not have lived up to the hype and wasn't what people hoped for -- Bayern Munich dominating possession while Arsenal absorbed pressure and looked for the counter attack -- it was still plenty interesting to watch the tactical battles and trade-offs unfold. With Bayern's various attempts to break down a determined defense, and Arsenal probing for any gaps and weaknesses on the break, the first half was very much a feeling-out process, but it wasn't dull.
Of course, just because the first half was all about figuring out each others' weaknesses doesn't mean there weren't chances -- Douglas Costa and Robert Lewandowski were regular threats for Bayern, while Arsenal looked lethal on the counter. On one chance in particular, a header whipped in from Theo Walcott forced Manuel Neuer to make a spectacular save, reflexively stabbing out his left hand and parrying the ball away despite having less than a second to react.
The second half was quicker and more active, though the very evenly-fought nature of the match continued to limit scoring opportunities, and top-notch performances from both goalkeepers stifled what chances there were -- at least until Neuer made a crucial mistake.
With Bayern absolutely dominating the run of play and Arsenal's chances on the counter growing more and more limited, it had been a while since Neuer had really been tested by the 77th minute. When a high ball came into his area with multiple Arsenal players around him, Neuer went up to claim it -- but apparently misread the ball, because his jump took him nowhere near it. Instead, it dropped past him, gifting Olivier Giroud with a free header, giving Arsenal a surprising 1-0 lead.
That sparked Bayern into kicking their attack into high gear, but Arsenal were playing with more confidence and were even more difficult to break down than before. There were some desperate moments, but Petr Cech and especially Laurent Koscielny came up big, time and time again -- and one last late counter saw Arsenal put up a withering storm of shots in rapid succession that Neuer couldn't keep out, with Mesut Özil finally beating his countryman to give Arsenal a second goal right at the end of the match.
The result changes the face of Group F rather significantly -- Arsenal picked up their first win, and Bayern their first loss, allowing Olympiakos to pull even with them on points. Arsenal fans had feared how the team would respond to being nine points out of first place if they'd lost, but instead are just three points behind and right back in the thick of things. This group is going to be a race to the finish.
Arsenal: Petr Cech; Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin; Aaron Ramsey (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 57'), Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez (Kieran Gibbs 82'); Theo Walcott (Olivier Giroud 74')
Goals: Giroud (77'), Özil (90'+3)
Bayern Munich: Manuel Neuer; Phillip Lahm, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba, Juan Bernat; Xabi Alonso (Joshua Kimmich 71'), Thiago Alcantara, Arturo Vidal (Rafinha 71'); Thomas Müller, Robert Lewandowski, Douglas Costa
3 things we learned
1. Manuel Neuer is absolutely ridiculous -- except when he messes up
OK, we knew that already. But good lord, that save. Maybe Theo Walcott could have hit it or located his header better than he did, but from point blank range and with his body behind the goalline, Neuer still made the save. And oh yeah, he made a few other really good saves and clearances and the like as well, because he's the best goalkeeper on the planet right now. But that save -- that's not even fair.
Of course, he would gladly have had just average saves instead if it meant catching that ball on Giroud's goal.
2. Bayern dominated possession, but Arsenal may have been more dangerous
Thanks in large part to Arsenal's decision not to try to press or unsettle Xabi Alonso at the base of Bayern's midfield, the Germans absolutely dominated possession all match long. That of course gave them more chances to score -- that's the hazard of giving the ball to such a good team -- but when Arsenal managed to win the ball back and break forward on the counter, they actually looked far more dangerous. They utilized the pace of Theo Walcott and the trickiness of Alexis Sanchez very well, with Mesut Özil putting the ball into spaces between Bayern's lines for them to run onto with ease.
3. Doulgas Costa is a rising star
With Neuer, Müller, Sanchez, Vidal, Lewandowski, and the like all on the pitch, you might not have expected Costa to be the best player on the pitch -- but he was, and by a comfortable margin. The young Brazilian ran rampant all over Arsenal's defense and midfield, and there was nothing the Gunners could do to stop him. Hector Bellerin, Francis Coquelin, and Santi Cazorla all got put through the mixer with him at one point or another, and Costa was consistently Bayern's greatest attacking threat in the match -- yes, even over Lewandowski.