Olivier Giroud came and Mesut Özil scored late goals to topple Bayern Munich and keep Arsenal’s Champions League hopes alive. With 13 minutes remaining substitute Giroud was in the right place at the right time to direct a free-kick into the net almost unknowingly with his face after Manuel Neuer had been left stranded. And in the final minute of injury time Özil made sure of victory when his finish from Hector Bellerin’s cross just crossed the line before Neuer could claw it away. It was a memorable result for Arsene Wenger’s side and could yet prove to be of vital importance.
Having been left without a point from matches against Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos, Arsene Wenger conceded that one victory was the very least his Arsenal side required from back-to-back matches with the German champions. Despite a spirited and focused performance in which they grew into the match after Bayern’s dominant start, it appeared that Arsenal would be ultimately frustrated and left desperately searching for points at the Allianz Arena in two weeks’ time.
Instead the two late goals give Arsenal real hope. They do still, though, remain bottom of their group, level on points with Dinamo, but three behind Bayern and Olympiakos. A spot in the top two is required to avoid missing out on a place in the last 16 for the first time in 16 years.
For Arsenal, it was an impressive display all round, albeit one that only cast further light on just how poorly they had underperformed in their opening two matches in the competition. Wenger had admitted that his side were perhaps guilty of taking their previous opponents lightly, but that was never going to happen in a contest against the form team in Europe.
Bayern controlled possession in a way few teams have ever done against Arsenal for the opening 30 minutes, barely giving the home side a kick. Yet Arsenal slowly began to thrive playing on the counter attack, showing a shrewdness that has all too often been missing from them at home in the Champions League of late. Indeed it was Neuer who had to make the outstanding save of the first half and perhaps of the year, when somehow denying a header from Theo Walcott.
Still, Arsenal required some fine goalkeeping from their own No. 1. The decision to leave Petr Cech out and field David Ospina in their first two Champions League matches had brought plenty of unwanted scrutiny upon Wenger. This time, with Ospina injured, Cech was the obvious choice and he displayed the command of his goalmouth that was sorely missing in the home loss to Olympiakos. Robert Lewandowski came into the fixture with 19 goals in his last 11 matches for clubs and country, but he was just one of the Bayern players left frustrated by the former Chelsea stopper.
For Bayern it was not only their first defeat of the season, but brought an end to their 12-match winning run to begin the campaign. Manager Pep Guardiola’s pre-match words suggesting that Arsenal’s desperate position would give them the advantage of being ravenous in pursuit of points came to fruition. In contrast, his own side was lacking that extra sharpness, particularly in the final third.
Arguably Bayern’s best moment came 11 minutes in when, amid a spell of hypnotic possession, Thiago Alcântara played a delightful one-two with Thomas Müller to get in behind the Arsenal defense, only to be denied by Cech. Neuer had to be alert at the other end to deny his Germany teammate Özil, but that was nothing compared to his stop from Walcott just past the half-hour mark. The Arsenal forward was already running off to celebrate his header from six yards finding the net, before Neuer somehow stretched out his left hand to keep it the right side of the line.
Arsenal struggled to pose the same attacking threat in the second half and their chances were made more difficult by a hamstring injury that forced Aaron Ramsey off. With 15 minutes remaining Cech had to be on his game again to stop to block a Lewandowski effort and simply keep Arsenal in the running for a vital three points.
In unlikely circumstances, though, Arsenal grabbed the crucial first goal. Santi Cazorla’s free-kick looked like it would be comfortably claimed by Neuer, instead he misjudged the flight of the ball allowing it to strike Giroud and bounce into the net. Arsenal now simply had to hang on, but instead they extended their advantage with the final seconds ticking down. Bellerin broke clear down the right, crossed perfectly for Özil, whose volley was rightly adjudged to have crossed the line by the goal-line official.