Arsenal fell short of pulling off a remarkable comeback on Wednesday against Bayern Munich as a 2-0 victory at the Allianz Arena still saw them exit the Champions League on away goals.
Laurent Koscielny’s header four minutes from time to add to Oliver Giroud’s early strike gave Arsenal real hope for the first time in the night that they could get overturn their 3-1 deficit from the home leg, but the third goal failed to arrive despite some Bayern nerves in the closing stages.
Against a Bayern side that were overly concerned with playing the scoreline throughout, Arsenal were more clinical but could have no complaints at exiting over the two legs.
In contrast to some of their play at the Emirates, it was a far from spectacular performance from Bayern, but they still created enough to have put the tie beyond doubt without that late drama.
Playing without the injured Jack Wilshere, a first goal was always likely to be necessary if Arsenal were to do what only one team has done in the history of the European Cup and come back from a two-goal home leg deficit. And that’s exactly what they got.
The saturated surface that proved the downfall of several players early on cost Bayern dear as David Alaba slipped to allow Tomas Rosicky to touch on Santi Cazorla’s cross field pass and find Theo Walcott in space down the right of the box. The forward drilled the ball with venom across the face of goal and Giroud was on hand to turn it in at the back post.
It didn’t exactly lead to the wave of Arsenal pressure that might have been expected. Bayern gathered themselves and looked the far more composed side in possession for much of the opening period. At the same time there wasn’t a great deal of tempo or urgency to their play going forward.
On one of the few occasions Bayern injected some pace into their passing Toni Kroos almost profited with a replica of his early goal at the Emirates, but this time the midfielder’s effort was tame and allowed Lukasz Fabianski—starting in place of Wojciech Szczesny—to make a comfortable save low to his left.
By that point Bayern had also had a good opportunity from a corner as Arsenal failed to clear and Luiz Gustavo should have done better than sky the ball over the bar at the back post.
The fact that Arsenal were dropping deep and were also rash and careless in possession was a combination that looked potentially disastrous. It nearly proved just that when both Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny failed to clear the ball adequately and they were lucky that Thomas Muller could only find the side netting from the angle.
To their credit, Arsenal began to push up late in the half and prevented Bayern from being so comfortable in possession. They were still showing few signs of adding a second goal, although Walcott produced a similar ball that led to the opener, but this time Giroud never looked like catching up to it.
The crowd had been virtually silent for large parts of the first half, whether because of the tedium on show or perhaps even nervousness.
As the second half got underway, the Bayern fans came to life and their side briefly did too. A run from Arjen Robben led to a shot that deflected just wide of the post, while Kroos once again showed off his technique with a long-range effort that just missed the angle of post and bar.
The shots were coming thick and fast for Bayern from the edge of the box, in particular, but Luiz Gustavo and Kroos both missed the target when they might have done better.
Despite Arsenal being the team in desperate need of goal, it was Bayern that were the team who looked far likelier to find the net. A delightful flick by Muller caught Arsenal out and got Robben through cutting in from the right, but Carl Jenkinson did well to get across and disrupt the Dutchman’s shot that Fabianski was able to tip wide.
Moments later Kieran Gibbs had to produce a determined block in front of goal to keep out Javi Martinez’s shot.
As the closing stages approached, Arsenal were finally forced to be more adventurous in their attempts to get the goals required. One of Wenger’s substitutions, Gervinho, came close to getting a second as he cut in from the left and exchanged passes with Cazorla to get in behind, but, from six yards out, the much-maligned Ivorian poked the ball wide of the far post.
When Koscielny got ahead of Javi Martinez and directed a header inside the near post past the despairing dive of Manuel Neuer there was a sense that the improbable might be on, but Bayern were able to compose themselves to hold out without further alarm.