Knocked out but hope for the rest of the season

Posted by Sam Limbert

It was a case of so near yet so far for ArsenalGettyImagesIt was a case of so near yet so far for Arsenal

Before kickoff in the Allianz Arena, I, like many Gooners, held few expectations of Arsenal achieving anything in the second leg of their Champions League clash with Bayern Munich. I feared a thrashing, with a confident Bayern steamrollering a fragile Arsenal team. However, that was far from the case, and while the 2-0 win didn't secure a place in the quarterfinals, it does give fans hope for the rest of the season.

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Another meek performance and a painful defeat could have left the team spiralling away from the European places via the Premier League. Instead, Arsene Wenger's team were solid in defence, harried Bayern and won away against a team that have been hotly tipped to win the whole competition this season. Bayern clearly weren't at their best, but that was partly because Arsenal didn't allow them to be.

The Gunners were helped by netting an early goal. If there was to be any chance of completing the miracle in Munich, it always felt like Arsenal had to score first, just to put some tension into the home side. Although helped by a slip from David Alaba, the flowing move was a reminder of what Arsenal can do. Santi Cazorla's pass in the build-up was superb, before Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky shifted it wide to Theo Walcott, who hammered it across the goal for Olivier Giroud to touch in.

For a long time, that was Arsenal's only shot in the match. That didn't mean they weren't playing well, though. Bayern were kept away from Lukasz Fabianski's goal, with the only real moment of danger snuffed out superbly by Carl Jenkinson when faced with a one-on-one by Arjen Robben.

In the second half, Arsenal remained tight and didn't allow Bayern to settle into an attacking rhythm. They couldn't pull the Arsenal back four around as they had done at the Emirates, and couldn't find the space in behind the defence. When they did break through, they found Fabianski in solid form, no doubt worrying Wojciech Szczesny, who was watching from London.

It was slightly frustrating that Arsene Wenger waited until the last twenty minutes to make changes and try to attack more. It was also surprising to see Walcott withdrawn. However, that almost paid off with Gervinho's jinking run and shot wide. The other sub, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, forced the corner that gave Arsenal more hope that the miracle could happen. Cazorla's cross from that corner was dangerous, but Laurent Koscielny redirected the ball superbly to score.

Unfortunately, the third goal wouldn't come. There were moments of regret in the game for Arsenal, such as the wrong offside decision against Walcott in the second half; however, they didn't lose that tie in the Allianz Arena -- it was lost in the home leg.

Overall, it was immensely encouraging to see that Arsenal had learned from their losses to Bayern and Tottenham, and that their defensive work in the ten days since the north London derby defeat paid off. I like Thomas Vermaelen, but it was the right decision to drop him for the game. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were immense, with Jenkinson showing incredible maturity compared to his recent sending off at Sunderland. Even though he didn't look match-fit, the back line was more balanced for having Kieran Gibbs in it.

Mikel Arteta also played well in the holding role. He did concede a lot of fouls, but that was partly due to the whistle-happy referee. He helped frustrate Bayern and set the standard for applying pressure when they neared the Arsenal penalty area.

Many might have thought Arsenal would go gung-ho to try and get through, but the early goal allowed them to compose themselves and play a more patient defensive game. It just showed that even if you sacrifice possession, having an organised defence provides a chance to win the game. With the exception of Gibbs because of his fitness, the same back five need to start at the weekend at Swansea and show the same concentration and discipline.

The match has to give the Arsenal squad confidence knowing they belong in the Champions League, and knowing they can go on a good run for the rest of the season. The taste for the competition is there. Some pride has been restored in Arsenal Football Club. The challenge now is to make sure that, while the result was futile this season, it can play an important part in qualifying for the Champions League next term.

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