Tuesday 21 November 2017

Giroud grabs Gunners lifeline

Arsenal 2 Bayern Munich 0

Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is all at sea as Olivier Giroud scores Arsenal’s first goal
Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is all at sea as Olivier Giroud scores Arsenal’s first goal
Giroud takes advantage of Manuel Neuer’s mistake to steer the ball home
Arsenal’s Francis Coquelin celebrates team-mate Olivier Giroud’s opening goal against Bayern Munich

Glenn Moore

Arsenal fans have seen this before, too often. A team parks the bus at the Emirates, defends in depth, has an inspired goalkeeper, nicks an ugly goal from a set play and hangs on for the win, rubbing victory in with a last-minute counterattack. Then Arsene Wenger moans that only one team wanted to play.

The Frenchman was not complaining last night. The deep, dogged defence came from his own team, albeit more by necessity than inclination as Bayern produced a pass-and-move masterclass, enjoying more than two-thirds of possession.

But Petr Cech was again Bayern's nemesis. Then Olivier Giroud, freshly introduced as substitute, capitalised on a shock mistake by Cech's opposite number Manuel Neuer to breathe life into Arsenal's failing Champions League campaign with a scrappy 79th-minute goal.

In injury time, Mesut Ozil converted Hector Bellerin's cross to give the scoreline a fantastical gloss.

Bayern, meanwhile, could not even park their real bus, reportedly picking up a parking ticket and crashing into a car en route to the ground.

Bayern are now joint top of the Group F with Olympiakos, who won in Croatia, but Arsenal are back in the game.

In-form

It was defeats in their opening ties, to Dinamo Zagreb away and, calamitously, Olympiakos at home, that had left Arsenal needing to beat Europe's most in-form team. Bayern came to London on the back of 12 straight wins all competitions which had taken them clear in both the Bundesliga and their European campaign.

Arsenal, hoping to make it 13th time unlucky, could be encouraged by their own improved form, and the absence from the Bayern side of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Mario Gotze.

However, their replacements proved rather decent, notably Douglas Costa, who gave Hector Bellerin a night that will long have him waking up in a cold sweat.

Arsenal, barring the perpetually injured Jack Wilshere, were at full strength, including between the sticks. The first key decision, who to put on the bench, was settled for Arsene Wenger by a convenient shoulder injury to David Ospina, suffered on international duty with Colombia.

Ospina, who turned a corner into his own net against Olympiakos, had been promised pre-season that he would play in Champions League matches, a stance Wenger firmly defended after Ospina's howler.

His absence meant Wenger was able to field Petr Cech in goal without losing face, or upsetting the understudy. Matt Macey, a 21-year-old signed from Bristol Rovers in 2013, whose first-team experience extended to four matches on loan at Accrington Stanley, was on the bench.

Those Bayern fans who boycotted the opening five minutes in protest at £64 tickets missed a lively start during which Robert Lewandowski dribbled through the Arsenal defence only to be halted at the last by Bellerin, Manuel Neuer typically sprinted from his goal to clear from Theo Walcott, and Bellerin was wrongly flagged offside after Santi Cazorla's pass freed him behind Bayern's defence. It was to be Arsenal's last attack of note for some time as Bayern began to monopolise possession in a manner Arsenal fans are accustomed to seeing their own team do.

The home side struggled to gain possession and, uncharacteristically, also to retain it.

For all their control, however, Bayern created few clear chances. The best of the half came in the 11th minute. Xabi Alonso threaded a slide-rule pass to Thiago Alcantara, who exchanged passes with Thomas Muller before drawing a sharp save from Cech.

The 'keeper also parried from Costa after Bellerin had been bamboozled, denied Arturo Vidal, then turned another Costa drive over. The jaw-dropping save, though, was made at the other end after 33 minutes as Arsenal finally broke forward.

Walcott, unmarked six yards out, was found by Nacho Monreal's cross. The header was firm but just too close to Neuer, who made a remarkable fingertip save, then watched relieved as Aaron Ramsey's follow-up flashed across goal.

Arsenal's prospects of gaining a foothold in the game looked to have receded further when Ramsey limped off with what looked a hamstring injury shortly before the hour, but they then threatened from an unlikely source, Francis Coquelin driving a shot just wide from a Mesut Ozil pass.

That was a rare instance of Ozil creating - like Alexis Sanchez, he had been starved of possession.

This was an unfamiliar scenario for Arsenal but Cech, at least, had been here before. Three years ago he broke Bavarian hearts when two hours' resistance, followed by a pair of penalty shoot-out saves, enabled Chelsea to win this competition in Bayern's home stadium.

He remained busy, tipping a Lewandowski shot over, but the positioning and concentration of Arsenal's central defenders increasingly protected him and Lewandowski, seeking his 16th goal in eight matches for club and country, began to look frustrated.

The Pole was even more infuriated when he finally found a yard of space, and a clear shot at goal, only for Cech to brilliantly deny him.

It proved a crucial save. With a dozen minutes left, Santi Cazorla hoisted a free-kick high into the Islington night sky, Neuer came charging from his goal to gather and utterly missed it.

The ball hit Giroud, who was lunging in behind the 'keeper, on the cheek and rolled into the empty net.

Bayern disbelievingly found themselves pressing forward for an equaliser but instead conceded again. Bellerin, who had made an impressive recovery after his first-half chasing, stole possession, sped forward, and crossed for Ozil to score despite Neuer's attempt to claw the ball to safety.

The goal was given, correctly, by the fifth official. It is rare for those much-maligned figures of fun to have a positive impact, but it was in keeping with a surprising night. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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