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What Could have Been: Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich

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LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19: Jack Wilshere of Arsenal challenged by Dante of Bayern Munich during the UEFA Champions League match between Arsenal and FC Bayern Muenchen at Emirates Stadium on February 19, 2014 in London, England. Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images.
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19: Jack Wilshere of Arsenal challenged by Dante of Bayern Munich during the UEFA Champions League match between Arsenal and FC Bayern Muenchen at Emirates Stadium on February 19, 2014 in London, England. Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images.

Ever wonder what could have been?

Arsenal had started their UEFA Champions League showdown with Bayern Munich incredibly well – moving the ball quickly from point-to-point of their North London triangles. Jack Wilshere was sharp and up for a big game as early on he fought to create a gilt-edged chance for Yaya Sanogo, who fired a low drive on frame forcing Manuel Neuer into a fine save, as the Gunners pressed Bayern high up the pitch to dominate the early proceedings.

The rhythm of the team was fast and hot, embolden by their supporters, as the stadium beat like a heart with belief, possibility, and excitement.

It was during those opening 10 minutes when Mesut Ozil out foxed a clumsy Jerome Boateng to earn Arsenal a penalty.

It was all going better than Arsene Wenger could have hoped.

And then it all went wrong.

Mesut Ozil’s casual stutter-step attempt at dispatching the penalty served to telegraph his chosen location, and Neuer made a good save to deny his compatriot. 

The Emirates started to flat-line and only a solid showing from Laurent Koscielny and Co. kept the crowd on life-support.

In the 30th minute things began to truly unravel as Kieran Gibbs was forced off with an injury, and like hyenas waiting to pounce on a wounded animal, the Bayern players licked their lips in anticipation as Nacho Monreal entered to take his place.  Bayern would spend the next 60 minutes of the match focusing their attacking prowess on Arsenal’s defensive left flank. 

Just minutes later, Wojeich Szczeney was sent off for a challenge on Arjen Robben after the Flying Dutchman had been played in clean on goal. 

Much debate has been generated about the double-consequences of the penalty/red carding of the Arsenal goalkeeper.  As the last man, denying a clear goal scoring opportunity, I do not have a problem with the decision.  Many are calling for a new interpretation of the rule for this type of circumstance with goalkeepers and I’d welcome that discussion - but as it stands I don’t think the Gunners have much to complain about. 

Robben has a reputation throughout his career of diving so I’m not really sure why Wenger is so surprised at his theatrics.

After the dust settled, the birds began to fly and the Emirates enjoyed resuscitation.

First, it was Arsenal’s Polish keeper who decided to set free and flip the bird to the Bayern Munich bench as he departed for the evening.

Then, David Alaba took the paint off the goalpost and missed his penalty, in conjunction with Robben’s antics, the crowd released a flock of boo birds to swarm and harass the Oranje player for the rest of the contest.

Arsenal made it to half time with the score at nil-nil.  

In Wenger We Trust:

It is hard for me to question the choices of my favorite manager in world football.  I am not one of those Arsenal supporters who would ever call for Wenger to step down (unless players were no longer buying in to his methods).  But yesterday, and if I’m being honest, the last two weeks or so, I have to question many of Wenger’s choices.

The Ozil Dilemma

In the post-match article I wrote after Arsenal’s demolition at the hand’s of Liverpool, I foresaw the potential for a dangerous dynamic that would develop when Mesut Ozil’s performances continued to be poor and Wenger would be faced with the dilemma of benching his club record signing.  Ozil played marginally better verse Manchester United – better in the sense that he put in a slightly stronger shift with more sweat and determination.

The same might be said for his performance in the FA Cup at home last Sunday.  He has not, however, impressed Arsenal's fans, or more importantly, his teammates by generally assuming the role of luxury player extraordinaire. 

Arsenal is not strong enough to beat good teams if Ozil chooses to ignore defensive accountability.     

On Wednesday night, Matheiu Flamini and  Wilshere reached a boiling point and vented their frustrations at this reality as they verbally berated Ozil on several occasions for not tracking runs, getting back in transition, and for a lack of grit in the biggest match of the year.

Wenger has come out to say that Ozil has not yet ‘fully recovered’ from the penalty miss. 

We must all be hopeful that this language has been employed to serve as a cloak of protection for Ozil’s omission this weekend in the Barclay’s Premier League.

Wenger must bench Ozil for the near term – for the sake of the team, for the sake of Ozil himself, and for any chance at winning something this year.  The talented German will have to regain the faith of his teammates in training before he can be selected again.  He will then only fully regain their admiration and loyalty when he puts in a full shift for 90 minutes – or heck even 60 minutes.

Substitutions Gone Wrong:

Firstly, I understand that if you take a player off after they have had a big miss you can damage their confidence and trust.  Wenger should have substituted Lukas Fabianski for Ozil regardless of that truth.

Santi Cazorla has been the more important player the last two months, and even if he was recently ill, he was better suited for the battle at hand. Period.

Secondly, when your best chance of getting a sniff at goal in a match is likely to come via a counter-attack, taking off Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the only player in the team who possess breakaway pace is utter lunacy.  Not to mention the fact that he has been Arsenal’s best player the last month.

-Needs of the Many vs. Needs of the Few:

Who was Wenger punishing by leaving out Olivier Giroud?  Did Giroud subtly intimate that he should be left out due the problems in his private life?  My understanding is that Wenger chose to leave him out and this was a mistake.  Sanogo played better then he had verse Liverpool, but I still find it shocking that Giroud was left out of this mammoth clash.  Wenger punished a singular personality in the side and the whole team endured the consequences.

Final thoughts:

Toni Kroos proved on Wednesday night why he is reportedly top of David Moyes' transfer wish list.  His immaculate goal, the instep strike with his right foot, that started outside of the post and arced it's way home was sensational.  The young German proved that he is a true and legitimate talent of the future who has arrived now.

He demands top dollars and Josep Guardiola must recognize this.  His initial strike blasted in the third minute, that Szczeney had to leap at full stretch to palm away, was fantastic.  Then, as the match was nearing its end he ripped another off the bottom of the right goal post.

Wayne Rooney has resigned with Manchester United and the idea of a Kroos, Rooney, Juan Mata attack sounds menacing.  Arsenal beware.

It has become apparent that Bayern Munich is unparallelled on the club scene when it comes to team efficiency.  

This is a hybrid team that possess the typical German precision, pace, and power, but also a technical mastery, a tiki-taka mentality at times can cause death by consecutive completed passes.

A back-to-back champion for the first time in the modern era seems likely.

After seeing such a promising opening 10 minutes at the Emirates it was hard not to wonder what could have been, what was, on the other hand, turned out to be a truly dominating performance by the Bavarians that left Arsenal dreaming of a magic come back at the Allianz.