It had promised, on at least one level, to be the classic confrontation of master against apprentice.
Bastian Schweinsteiger knows what it is to stand in Jack Wilshere's boots as the young hope of football in his nation, although the Germany international has long since feasted on a host of honours at Bayern Munich to advertise himself as the complete package.
Wilshere, by contrast, owes his status as the chief carrier of Arsenal's hopes to his breathtaking promise, which he has shown on some grand stages already in a career that has barely clocked up 100 professional games. Could he follow his stand-out showings against Barcelona in Champions League knock-out competition, for example, against the juggernaut that is this season's Bayern?
The answer was yes. Wilshere's display featured all of the traits that we have come to enjoy: the deceptive acceleration, the vision and the urgency in possession. But it was defined by something else. It is known colloquially as bottle. He had flickered at the outset, as though he intended to embrace this pivotal moment of his club's season, but when his team found themselves seemingly down and out, following Bayern's one-two punch in the first half, he refused to bow.
It is remarkable to think that Wilshere is still only 21 and a mere three and a half months ago he had not kicked a ball at first-team level for 17 months because of a foot injury. His return to form has been quick and eye-catching and for long spells it felt as though he were fighting a one-man battle to keep Arsenal afloat against opponents whose superiority was pronounced in all areas, not least their collective confidence.
Wilshere drove and prompted, particularly in the second half, when Lukas Podolski scored from his corner and, briefly, there was the hint of a revival. Had the substitute Olivier Giroud smacked his shot either side of Manuel Neuer, Arsenal might still be in the tie. Instead Mario Mandzukic's sucker punch brought a truer reflection of the evening and further frayed nerves for the home team in the closing minutes.
The trouble, of course, was that Bayern had more than one master. Schweinsteiger was the epitome of unflustered cool, dictating the tempo from his withdrawn midfield role and setting the victory in motion with the burst that led to Toni Kroos' opening goal. But all around him were fearsome threats, most notably Kroos, whose combination of power and technique underlined his top-level quality. With Javi Martínez, Thomas Müller and the marauding full-back Philipp Lahm also prominent among the evening's stars, this was, at times, a mismatch.
The home fans had booed at half-time and many of them had departed with their heads down before the bitter end. Wilshere, at least, did not go with a whimper, even if the search for consolations rang a little hollow. The boos upon the full-time whistle were similarly half-hearted. It was resignation rather than anger.
Arsenal had entered the game as they always seem to do, against a maelstrom of emotions and with the fear that they were 90 minutes from crisis. And yet the management and players had been convinced they would prevail because they have the talent to beat any given opponent on any given day. Nothing that transpired actually had the capacity to surprise. Arsenal's unpredictability is maddening yet gripping.
It had been heartening to see Wilshere granted the platform he craves, as the No10, with Arsène Wenger simply deciding to play his best player in his best position. He would fit his other creative options around Wilshere, with Santi Cazorla being shunted to the right. The Spaniard struggled sorely.
Part of the frustration about the early concession from an Arsenal point of view was that Wilshere had settled immediately into a groove and, albeit for only a few minutes, the home team had moved the ball sharply. There was evidence of Wilshere's vision and his weight of pass. Schweinsteiger, from his deep-sitting position, had made it his business to keep a close eye on his rival.
But Arsenal's brittleness is stamped all over them and, if there were angry questions among those in red as to how Kroos could have been allowed the space on the edge of the area to crash, beautifully, past Wojciech Szczesny, there was a full-blown inquest after Bayern's shattering second, which was scooped home by Müller. "Football's coming home," chortled the Bayern fans.
The root of the frustration, of course, was the knowledge that this is what Arsenal do. Their sluggish starts, the first-half deficits that they routinely incur, have become almost pathological. Wenger had even said in his pre-match outburst on Monday that the problem was "psychological" and it was possible to detect an element of the self-fulfilling prophecy as Bayern stuck their chests out and called the tune. Some of Arsenal's defending was wobbly to the point of feeble while it was startling to witness how much time Bayern enjoyed on the ball.
Wilshere stuck to his task impressively, never hiding and always seeking to push his team. There was the creation of a couple of half-chances before the interval and he inspired a little more in the second-half. Even to the last, he gritted his teeth, burst into the area and forced Neuer into a rare safe.
This, however, was Bayern's evening. They were too good for Arsenal. The worry is that Wilshere might be, as well.
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image: © Ronnie Macdonald