Bayern hold strong, eventually dominate 10-man Arsenal

Posted by Susie Schaaf

Bayern Munich survived a torrid opening by home squad Arsenal in a Champions League showdown that went not the way that most would have thought. In the first half alone, Manuel Neuer saved a Mesut Ozil penalty, and on the other end, David Alaba bottled his, while Wojciech Szczesny was shown red for a foul on Arjen Robben leading up to the play.

But the second half saw Bayern inexorably turning the screws with a man advantage at the Emirates. Toni Kroos scored a wonder goal -- with contract renewal surely in mind -- beating substitute keeper Lukasz Fabianski with a beautiful curling shot from distance. And Thomas Mueller got a diving header in the dying minutes as Munich were finally able to overcome a resolute Gunners defence.

Bayern now head home up 2-0 with, surely, one foot in the door on their way to title retention. Although, as we saw in last season, stranger things have happened at the Allianz.

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Well, that's certainly not what I expected! After seeing the starting XI's for each side, I thought Bayern's was a stroke of brilliance from Pep Guardiola. Philipp Lahm, who has been outstanding at single pivot this season, was reverted to his (natural?) right-back role, with Thiago Alcantara at the pivot instead, and Javi Martinez getting a start in the attacking four midfielders. I figured Lahm would neutralize Santi Carzola, and Martinez could work on Ozil, leaving Thiago to boss the midfield.

Arsene Wenger's club had other things in mind, although Kroos almost opened the scoring for die Roten just three minutes in -- shades of last season's opener from the German international at the same stage. A frantic start from Arsenal saw the ever-superlative Neuer save from new striker Yaya Sanogo and Carzola in quick succession, before Jerome Boateng brought down fellow German teammate Ozil in the box.

Wenger wrongly decided to pit international teammates against each other, and Neuer would handily palm out Ozil's poorly struck Elfmeter. At the other end, Alaba, who decided not to play defence for the evening against Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, would come close to scoring only to be caught at the last-gasp by defender Mathieu Flamini's out-stretched leg.

Bayern's decidedly high line, and inability to keep possession, saw Chamberlain latch onto a misplaced pass, and able to get one-on-one with Neuer. Again, Germany's number one saved the day taking the ball of the Arsenal midfielder. But, Oxlade-Chamberlain would continue to find space down Bayern's left, a constant threat on a defensively ineffective Alaba.

The run-of-play would slowly get back to Munich's way to close out the half with things only looking brighter for FCB as a Kroos chip into Robben saw the Dutchman break free into a one-on-one with Szczesny; the keeper clipping Robben's ankle in a goalscoring chance as referee Nicola Rizzoli showed red, prompting the Arsenal keeper to issue a classless gesture regarding the decision as he entered the tunnel.

Fabianski came in for Carzola to replace Szczesny, only to face a penalty shot from Alaba. Not much to worry about as the keeper went the wrong way, but Alaba's build-up was so slow, it couldn't have been anything but a miss. And it did miss -- striking the post harmlessly and out.

The half would end with Mario Mandzukic seeing yellow for needlessly giving ref Rizolli a mouthful.

Guardiola sent in Rafinha for Boateng to open the second half, stating post-match: "I took [him] off because he was at risk of missing the second leg." Captain Lahm would move to pivot, with Martinez dropping to centre-back and Rafinha taking over at right-back.

It was always going to be rough going for Wenger's Arsenal as they faced an entire half with Bayern slowly turning the screws. Credit to the Gunners as they organized themselves into two banks of four, denying Bayern several chances at a final pass.

Robben, with space to move, created early chances for himself and Rafinha before Lahm crossed out to Kroos, the midfielder curling a belter past Fabianski to finally open Bayern's account.

Sanogo soon saw yellow for contact with Neuer, as Wenger accused Robben of diving on the sidelines -- poorly done, and not professional for a trainer who is generally used to keeping his cool. Perhaps he was frustrated by the control Bayern was steadily exerting over the match, most of it now being played in Arsenal's third, with Bayern's centre-backs on top of the circle.

Robben glided a ball just past the post, and Mario Goetze headed just wide as every touch by Bayern on an Arsenal player was shamefully called for a foul by the home team (I expected better of them). Goetze would come close again, with a diving header, before Chamberlain came off for Tomas Rosicky.

Peruvian Claudio Pizarro came in for Thiago as Goetze and Robben would both see additional chances. but substitute Mueller, "the space creator" would seal the deal with a diving header as, for the first time in the second half, Arsenal did not have eight men in the box.

The match closed out with a close Pizarro header, before he kicked out for Kroos -- the midfielder threading a low shot from distance, only to hit the post.

Bayern Munich now take a wholly advantageous position back to the Allianz Arena in three weeks' time, facing Arsenal on March 11th. And Arsenal will wonder where it all went wrong. While coming out and battering Bayern to open this match, the away team held tough, and the Gunners got petulant.


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