Arsenal were level with Bayern Munich into the second half at the Allianz Arena. Not only that, they were playing well and creating chances.
Forget trying to hold onto the 1-1 scoreline in the first leg and go home in great position – the Gunners rightly felt like they could nab a second goal. Maybe even win.
Then it all fell apart in 10 minutes.
First, Robert Lewandowski got a running start on a stand-still Shkodran Mustafi, who was glued to the spot as Bayern Munich took the lead.
Three minutes later, it was Lewandowski again, this time with a sumptuous backheel.
And finally, Thiago Alcantara completed his brace.
— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) February 15, 2017
Just like that, Arsenal were finished.
They weren’t hoping for a win anymore. They weren’t even looking at a draw. The mere idea of staging a comeback in the second leg looks fanciful at best. They were completely buried and set to go out of the Champions League in the round of 16 for the seventh straight season. The same Arsenal they’ve always been.
If this were any other team, we would bemoan their “misfortune.” After all, they drew Bayern Munich. That’s horrific luck. And Laurent Koscielny got injured, which was a killer. And Lewandowski’s go-ahead goal was more a display of how good the Bavarians are, with Philipp Lahm hitting pinpoint crosses and Lewandowski as good in the air as anyone in the world. The second goal was Lewandowski being absolutely brilliant, again. And then it took a deflection to turn Thiago’s shot, which David Ospina looked set to save, into one that went in off his foot.
That’s a string of very bad luck and not one that would reflect a team’s failure, but this is no regular team. This is Arsenal. It’s Arsene Wenger making excuses after the match. It’s holes on the team that they’ve refused to fill for years. It’s a (soon-to-be) seventh consecutive round of 16 elimination. And, of course, it comes not two weeks after a loss to Chelsea that all but ruled them out of the Premier League title race. The whole thing is so bad that Thomas Muller’s late goal to make it 5-1 barely even mattered.
It’s just so Arsenal.
This is Arsenal’s reality. And all the talk about this being Wenger’s last season at the Emirates — his contract expires after the season and Juventus boss Max Allegri has been linked to a North London move — will only get louder. It doesn’t matter that sometimes players get hurt because Arsenal have had so many injuries over the years that Koscielny’s won’t just be looked at as bad luck. To some, it will be irrelevant that Mustafi has been largely good this season and that he couldn’t get off the ground against Lewandowski will lead to questions about whether he was a good signing. While we were watching in amazement at Lewandowski’s backheel, so was the Arsenal defence and that too will come into question. Even Wenger’s decision to start Ospina over Petr Cech, despite the fact that the deflection left the goalkeeper with nearly no chance on the final tally, will be doubted.
All of this would be surprising if it hadn’t been the norm for years. So they will have to answer those questions. They’ll have to defend themselves. They’ll have to explain why things are still OK. And frankly, they weren’t too bad because for most of the match, Arsenal looked about as good as you could expect for a team taking on Bayern Munich at the Allianz. But talking around problems and looking on the bright side got old at the Emirates long ago.
So they’ll have to talk about those 10 minutes. Those three goals. How good Bayern Munich are. How they could let that happen … again. And why the last time they made the Champions League quarterfinals, “Break Your Heart” by Taio Cruz was the No. 1 song in America. Good luck trying to explain that way.