Welcome back. So I thought we ought to brace ourselves for a Bayern Munich onslaught in yesterday’s pre-game post, but not for a second did I think the Germans would beat us 5-1.
Yet that was before we knew Laurent Koscielny would join Hector Bellerin in missing the match through injury, and although I was still pretty confident with our starting defensive line-up, with Gabriel coming in to partner Per Mertesacker in the middle, in the end, Koscielny proved one first-choice absentee too far.
Our win over Bayern at Emirates stadium a fortnight ago was built on a highly-organised and determined defensive display, but last night, we lacked both organisation and determination I felt.
Gabriel goofed by stupidly stepping up to allow Robert Lewandowski to glance home a headed opener after just ten minutes, and the writing was very much on the wall, even at that early stage of proceedings.
Next up to cock-up was Mertesacker, who repeated his inexplicable ‘defending’ from a week ago against Sheffield Wednesday, by refusing to attempt what appeared an easy block on an opposition shot, allowing Thomas Muller to make it 2-0 from from inside our box just before the half-hour mark.
Then Santi Cazorla was too easily dispossessed some 25 yards from our goal, David Alaba robbing him of the ball before shooting unchallenged, albeit quite brilliantly, beyond Petr Cech’s grasp. Three nil, with the third conceded right on half-time.
The irony was that when we did attack during that first period, we looked dangerous and our hosts vulnerable. Perhaps that was due to the slightly surprising exclusion of Arturo Vidal from his starting team by Pep Guardiola.
The Catalan coach, who revealed during his time as Barcelona boss, that he would lock himself away before a big game to devise a tailored tactical plan to win the match, must have done something similar before last night’s.
At Emirates stadium, he played with a trio in the middle of the park in Xabi Alonso, Thiago Alcantara and Vidal, with Douglas Costa wide left, and Muller wide right of Lewandowski. But yesterday, he dropped Vidal to the bench, stationed Kingsley Coman very wide on the left flank, Costa very wide on the right one, and played Muller as a support striker off of Lewandowski.
That meant they had one less body in the middle of the park but an extra one in our box and it was too much for our patched up back four to cope with. Their two wide-men also caused our defending to become far more stretched, which in turn allowed them more space centrally.
The fact their full-backs essentially played as auxiliary midfielders, and at times their centre-backs too (!), meant they were susceptible defensively at times, but more importantly, ensured we were pinned back and forced to defend very deep for most of the match.
Anyway, tactical nuances aside, they went four nil up 10 minutes into the second half as Arjen Robben sauntered onto the pitch as a substitute for Coman and casually stroked the ball home at the near post with his first touch of the game. Not one Arsenal defender had, evidently, paid the slightest bit of attention to the fact one of the world’s best players had just entered the action against them.
Our only highlight of the night came in the 69th minute when Alexis Sanchez found Olivier Giroud with a nice pass and the Frenchman acrobatically dispatched the ball past Manuel Neuer with some aplomb. Then just before the final whistle, Costa went through the gears and through the middle of our midfield unchallenged, teed up Muller, and he guided the ball home at the near post with clinical precision.
Afterwards, Arsene Wenger was far from pleased with his side’s defending but praised Bayern, saying:
You have to give credit to Bayern first for their quality and on top of that we made things quite easy for them. It was a bad defensive performance and we were extremely poor defensively. We were not at the races. The funny thing is that when we went forward we created good chances. We had a chance to score early but with a defensive performance like that, you go nowhere.
To defend our defending for a moment though, this was our sixth game of seven in just 21 days and playing against a side like Bayern requires a lot of concentration if you want to stand a chance to getting a good result. Last night, I thought we were a little fatigued physically, but also mentally, which given our grueling run of games perhaps shouldn’t be surprising.
When you consider we’ve lost Mikel Arteta, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Bellerin and Koscielny during that period, having to play every three days surely has to be seen as a big contributory factor to their injuries.
Regardless of injury worries however, we can’t allow this loss to affect our promising Premier League form so far this season – a win over Tottenham on Sunday would show we haven’t.