Bayern Munich march on in their efforts to become the first team to retain the European Cup in the Champions League era after a 1-1 draw with Arsenal at the Allianz Arena secured the defending champions’ passage to the last eight, 3-1 on aggregate.
As was the case 12 months ago, Arsenal arrived in Munich with a massive task to overturn a two-goal first-leg deficit. Once more they emerge with some credit but ultimately leave defeated, having now exited at the round-of-16 for the fourth successive season. And, in truth, while Bayern again neglected to go for the jugular in the return leg, there was always a strong degree of assuredness about their performance this time around.
Bayern were on top and controlling the play throughout, with Arsenal reduced to trying to contain opponents who had scored 15 goals since the sides met three weeks ago. When Bastian Schweinsteiger was allowed the space to finish from close range early in the second half the tie looked over. To their credit, Arsenal instantly responded. Lukas Podolski got a significant benefit of the doubt for a push on Philipp Lahm before smashing the ball past Manuel Neuer and the visitors were briefly lifted as they chased the two goals needed to perform a stunning revival. But Bayern settled once more and were able to play out the remaining minutes in the serenity enabled by their relentless ability to keep hold of the ball. Lukasz Fabianski superbly saved Thomas Muller’s penalty in injury time, but it was never going to prove significant to the result.
Arsene Wenger, who was without the suspended Wojciech Szczesny and forced to play Thomas Vermaelen at left-back due to injuries, started with positive personnel in midfield. With Mikel Arteta as the anchorman, Santi Cazorla came deeper than usual to try and provide the creativity, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was charged with breaking forward at every opportunity. While the impressive Oxlade-Chamberlain occasionally threatened in the opening half, Arsenal ultimately didn’t have enough of the ball to make the strategy count on the break.
Bayern had almost total command as they racked up their passing and possession numbers in the comfort of not having to push for goals. One of their biggest threats was left-back David Alaba, who again showed himself to be an auxiliary midfielder in all but name. His runs forward consistently left Mesut Ozil watching on. There was certainly justification for the decision to take Arsenal’s record signing off at half-time, although Wenger later put his withdrawal down to an injury.
One of Alaba’s runs led to a cross from Franck Ribery that Arjen Robben might have done better than to volley into the ground an over the bar. The Dutch winger had another half-chance, too, when Arsenal’s defense was caught dawdling Laurent Koscielny was required to block in front of the line. In Szczesny’s absence, Fabianski equipped himself well and was forced into action for the first time in earnest when getting down low to keep out a snap-shot from Mario Gotze.
Fabianski could do nothing, though, to keep the scores level when the space opened up glaringly in front of him nine minutes into the second half. Ribery, back in the side after missing the first leg, attracted several players over to him as he drifted in from the left. That left a gaping hole in the middle and Schweinsteiger ran past Santi Cazorla before finishing coolly from eight yards.
There was to be a brief twist in the script jus three minutes later. As he attempted to shield the ball, Lahm went down from an admittedly slight push in the back from his Germany colleague Podolski. The Bayern defender and many of his teammates stopped and waited for the free-kick to be awarded, but the referee’s whistle failed to arrive and Podolski unleashed his rocket of a left foot to drive the ball high inside Manuel Neuer’s near post.
When Oxlade-Chamberlain fired a shot in and substitute Tomas Rosicky almost capitalized on a mistake from Neuer, Arsenal appeared to have just the slightest chance of pulling off something special. But under Pep Guardiola, Bayern now have an even greater sense of control and authority. Having got the match back under their grasp, they should have made the result even more comfortable. Mandzukic bundled in front of goal following Thiago’s square pass and in injury time they fluffed from the spot.
Robben, who had gone down in embarrassing fashion looking for a spot kick earlier, again went to ground with ease, but this time the clumsy challenge from Laurent Koscielny was warranting of a penalty. Muller’s attempt to give Fabianski the eyes backfired when the keeper’s legs stopped the ball right on the line. Yet, while there may have been three penalties and a sending off across the two legs, Arsenal will have to cede that it was Bayern’s greater quality that proved decisive.