Mario Mandzukic adds finishing touch to Bayern's wounding of Arsenal

It ended, as it so often does these days, with the beaten, dejected players of Arsenal listening to the din of dissent that is threatening to become the soundtrack of their season.

This time at least it was not so vitriolic as on other occasions and amid the boos there was even some sympathetic applause but it was scant consolation. The bottom line, ultimately, is that Arsène Wenger's team cannot defend this generously and expect it to lead them to ticker-tape and open-top bus parades.

Wenger will no doubt reflect with anguish on that moment, at 2-1, when Theo Walcott crossed from the right and the substitute Olivier Giroud, barely on the pitch a minute, aimed his shot straight at Manuel Neuer. The chance was gone and it was six minutes later that Mario Mandzukic and Bacary Sagna slid in for the same ball and it spun into the air and over the goalline.

Yet Arsenal's manager would be kidding himself if he felt there was anything unjust about the result that all but condemns his club to an eighth year without a trophy and brings more scrutiny on his own position. Bayern had threatened for long spells to make the defeat ignominious as well as painful. They had led 2-0 after 21 minutes, courtesy of Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller, and the header from Lukas Podolski that offered encouragement of an improbable comeback had come almost as a shock.

Here was the evidence why the serial champions Bayern are 15 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga. If Arsenal were going to overcome a side of this refinement, it was imperative they made a good start. What happened was the exact opposite and, for Arsenal, the damage was significant enough to wonder whether they were fatal blows.

Bayern, to put it bluntly, were brutal opponents for a side this susceptible. They played with width and penetration and the sense, unlike Arsenal, that everybody fully understood his role in the team. Those early moments, when they took control and played with the mastery and togetherness that comes from having total confidence in one another, was a stark demonstration about how far Arsenal are away from bridging the gap to the most formidable teams in this competition.

Instead it was the same old dispiriting story from Wenger's players. A classy strike from Kroos put Bayern in control, yet their manager's shoulders will sag a little more when he sees again how straightforward it was for Müller to deliver the cross. Aaron Ramsey dangled out his leg but not with any great conviction. The ball ran through to Kroos, expertly judging the bounce of the cross before demonstrating, to a T, the art of striking the ball first time. With great control and technique, he managed to keep his shot down and beat Wojciech Szczesny for sheer power.

Arsenal's supporters will understand a little better now why Kroos is so revered in his own country. Ramsey will be able to testify for it as well when he thinks back to that moment, shortly before half-time, when the Bayern player cruelly slipped the ball through his legs. If ever there was a moment that summed up the imbalance of talent, that was it: a nutmeg by the halfway line and then Bayern were breaking again.

Yet Ramsey was not the only one to suffer. The opening goal came from an aimless long punt out of defence from Per Mertesacker, needlessly giving away the ball. The same player was also guilty of not following Daniel van Buyten's run in the moments that led to Müller doubling the lead. It was a hideous goal to concede but perhaps the most depressing thing for the supporters watching amid growing aghast is that it is all part of a pattern. In this parish they have grown wearily accustomed to the sight of Mertesacker waving an apologetic hand. Van Buyten's header flashed towards Szczesny at speed but it was a limp attempt to parry and Müller was alone, unchallenged, when he hooked in the rebound.

At that stage it was apparent why Jupp Heynckes's team had conceded only one away goal in the Bundesliga and recently went almost four and a half hours without an opponent having the audacity to rack up a single shot on target.

Yet Bayern forgot their own script with the goal that brought their opponents back into the match. Jack Wilshere, whose performance was laced with great endeavour, swung in the corner and Neuer, the Bayern goalkeeper who recently talked about being so under-used in games he did not need a shower, came for the ball and then changed his mind. Javi Martínez, the nearest Bayern player, had become tangled with Laurent Koscielny and that left Podolski to nod it into an exposed goal.

This was Arsenal's best period of the match but there was always the sense that they might be caught out again in defence. After 78 minutes the substitute Arjen Robben sent Philipp Lahm, superb as an attacking right-back, running down the wing. The luck was on Bayern's side as the ball spun fortuitously off Mandzukic and, from here, Arsenal will need a miracle in Munich.

Powered by article was written by Daniel Taylor at Emirates Stadium, for The Guardian on Tuesday 19th February 2013 21.58 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © wonker

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