Bayern Munich are all but through into the Champions League quarterfinals after demolishing Arsenal 5-1 in the first leg of their round of 16 tie at the Allianz Arena. Arjen Robben opened the scoring in the first half, only for Alexis Sánchez to equalise shortly before halftime. Unfortunately for the visitors, their hard work was undone in a disastrous second period, in which a brace from Thiago Alcântara and goals from Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller ensured a humiliating defeat.
It took only 11 minutes for Bayern to break the deadlock, though Arsenal had reason to feel aggrieved at the circumstances. While the Bavarians had dominated possession in the first few minutes, the Gunners defence was initially surprisingly sturdy. They paid the price for just a momentary lapse, as Robben skipped away from Francis Coquelin and onto his left foot, before curling a trademark effort inside David Ospina’s far post. The best players punish the smallest mistakes, and Robben is certainly still one of those.
Arsenal struggled to find a foothold after going behind, with Bayern continuing to patiently probe. However, when Lewandowski fouled Laurent Koscielny in the penalty area and the referee pointed to the penalty spot just past the half hour, the complexion of the game changed completely. Sánchez’s spot-kick was saved by Manuel Neuer and then scuffed the rebound, only to frantically convert at the third time of asking. Arsenal were not only level, but in the ascendancy.
They created two further chances before the interval: a low cross by Sánchez was smashed straight at Neuer by the onrushing Granit Xhaka; anywhere else and the ball would’ve rocketed into the back of the net. A few minutes later a quiet Mesut Özil should’ve converted after being presented with a great chance from close range, though he, too, shot straight at the Bayern goalkeeper. By halftime the game had changed completely, and Arsenal would’ve been frustrated to only be level.
Alas, their momentum was broken by the interval, and Bayern were swiftly able to establish control once more. This time, they ensured there would be no way back for their opponents. What followed was 20 minutes of brutal football in which they netted three goals, though admittedly as much a result of some atrocious Arsenal defending as their own attacking flair.
The first was the result of some simple build-up play down the right, with Philipp Lahm running beyond Robben before delivering a good cross for Lewandowski. The Polish striker got the jump on Shkodran Mustafi, and his header proved beyond the reach of Ospina. The second was of rather more merit, largely thanks to some flashy play from Lewandowski. This time the scorer turned provider, flicking an all-too-simple Xabi Alonso pass in behind the Arsenal defence. The backheel was excellently read by the onrushing Thiago, who was left with the simple task of firing beyond Ospina and sending Bayern two goals to the good.
Arsenal were completely crumbling, and a succession of clear-cut chances followed within quick succession before Thiago completed his brace just past the hour. A corner popped out to the Spanish international on the edge of his area, with his low drive taking a kindly deflection off Xhaka before rolling past the wrong-footed Ospina. The Bavarians were three up, and absolutely cruising.
They completed the rout with a fifth with just two minutes of normal time left, as substitute Müller got himself in on the act. An anonymous Oxlade-Chamberlain was dispossessed by Joshua Kimmich; his square pass was gleefully received by Müller, who skipped to his right before rifling beyond Ospina. The humiliation was thereby complete, and the home fans would’ve been wondering who they’ll be facing in the quarterfinals.
Bayern Munich: Manuel Neuer; David Alaba, Mats Hummels, Javi Martínez, Philipp Lahm; Arturo Vidal, Xabi Alonso; Douglas Costa (Joshua Kimmich 84’), Thiago Alcântara, Arjen Robben; Robert Lewandowski (Thomas Müller 86’).
Goals: Robben (11’), Lewandowski (53’), Thiago (56’, 63’), Müller (88’).
Arsenal: David Ospina; Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny (Gabriel 49’), Shkodran Mustafi, Héctor Bellerín; Granit Xhaka, Francis Coquelin (Olivier Giroud 77’); Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Özil, Alex Iwobi (Theo Walcott 66’); Alexis Sánchez.
Goals: Sánchez (30’).
1. Arsenal lost this game as much as Bayern won it
Considering Bayern’s eventual margin of victory, one of the most astonishing things about this match was how even it was through first half. Arsenal didn’t see much possession but did defend well; Bayern were restricted to largely innocuous wing-play, and their only goal was a moment of individual brilliance from Arjen Robben. By halftime, Arsenal were the better of the two teams, and their counter-attacking was causing Bayern real problems. That made their second half capitulation all the more disappointing; what had been a well-coordinated defensive display became a total embarrassment, a caricature of the Gunners at their worst under Arsène Wenger. He’ll know to expect pressure after this performance, and he can’t say it’s unwarranted.
2. Robert Lewandowski redeemed himself with an excellent second half display
Lewandowski had a poor start to this match, missing a couple of good chances and giving away the penalty that allowed Arsenal to equalise. However, he certainly redeemed himself in the second half, turning in a textbook center-forward’s performance. From his excellent header to smart backheel assist, the Polish striker was a nightmare for Arsenal’s defence. Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny will be dreading going up against him again in the second leg.
3. Mesut Özil was nowhere once again
By now, it’s obvious that Mesut Özil is having a poor season. Before this match, Wenger spoke of how great players always justify their own selection, effectively paraphrasing the old adage that though form is temporary, class is permanent. But after another nothing performance from the German, Arsenal supporters will be wondering what good is class if it isn’t ever in evidence? In this game, Özil was defensively lazy and offensively inefficient; with wingers Alex Iwobi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain often so deep in defensive formation, Alexis Sánchez needed greater support on the counter from the playmaker. As it was, the Chilean was too often left alone in attack, and Bayern too easily able to regain possession. Gunners supporters won’t be happy, and it’s little wonder.