Arsenal fall short as Bayern advance
As Bayern figurehead Uli Hoeness faces tax evasion charges, across Europe, Bayern are making a firm case for the defence of their prestigious trophy.
Not at their magnificent best, Bayern's progression to the quarter-finals of the Champions League was nothing short of smooth, with Lukas Podolski's controversial strike, cancelling out Bastian Schweinstiger's opener, evoking a few nerves in the always ardent Bavarian support.
Arjen Robben was a continuous threat on the left hand side, with his nimble trickery often eluding the determined clutches of Thomas Vermaelen, captain on the night as he stood in for absentees Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal. The Dutchamn, along with David Alaba and Thiago Alacantara, was Bayern's only eye-catching performer.
Pep Guardiola's side had inflicted their detrimental damage three weeks ago, courtesy of goals from Toni Kroos and Thonas Mueller, with their respective places on the Bayern bench illustrating the riches of quality at Guardiola's disposal. It will require an exceptional effort to thwart their charge to a historic defence of the European Cup, the first since 1990. They certainly have the talent and coach to do so.
It was a commendable display from Arsenal, with class at times combining with their excellent work rate. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was particularly impressive as his useful pace and creative trickery wreaked fear into the Bayern defence. Even the best do have their flaws - Dante and Javi Martinez were risky liabilities. Quality and belief, partially gained from their improbable 2-0 victory at the Allianz Arena last season, were the recurring themes of Wenger's presser on Monday. His men indisputably demonstrated both.
Lukasz Fabianski's sensational penalty stop from Thomas Mueller epitomized a courageous Arsenal performance as the Polish keeper, standing in for the suspended Szczesny, saved the German's first strike before bravely claiming the spinning ball as it threatened to cross beyond the line. Spirit was plainly present, but quality came to tell by the second-leg's culmination.
Following a period of sustained Bayern pressure, Chamberlain, superbly found by Santi Cazorla, seized the first opportunity to run at the occasionally insecure Dante, with the Brazilian receiving a yellow card for a cynical challenge on the young Englishman, ruling him out of the quarter-final's first-leg.
Bayern, as any team under Guardiola's stewardship, were accomplished in their handling of the ball. It was an enervating exercise of the Arsenal players as they tirelessly chased shadows. The Bavarians were at ease, comfortable with proceedings thanks to the two-goal advantage obtained at the Emirates. Their play was of the conservative sort, with hardly much attempt to penetrate achieved. Javi Martinez's sidefoot finish, correctly ruled offside, was the closest Bayern came to taking the lead in the first period.
Chamberlain once again reminded us of the pivotal role he promises to play in this summer's World Cup finals for England. The Three Lions will surely face technically superior opponents and a player with speed and skilful ability is of high importance. He was the bridge between defence and attack, but his outstanding individual display fell short of single-handedly booking his side's place in the next round of Europe's elite competition.
Minutes after the Allianz Arena had been in complete derision following the referee's unwelcome refusal of a Bayern penalty at the restart, with Robben destined for the ground under Cazorla's presence, its mood transformed dramatically as Schweinstiger cooly slotted in Ribery's pull-back. Wenger's gamble to bench anchorman Mathieu Flamini in preference of the more attack-minded Cazorla had backfired dearly as the Spaniard's failure to track back gifted Schweinstiger the time and space to put Bayern a go up and 3-0 ahead on aggregate. Briefly.
After Podolski had obtrusively nudged Germany team-mate Phillip Lahm out of contention and proceeded to emphatically finish past the stranded Neuer, Wenger admitted to doubting the legality of the goal, saying ; "I thought it was a foul, yes". But foul or not, Bayern cruised into the last eight.
Who can stop them?
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