Old Big Ears, the European Cup, the Champions League, call it what you will. It is the one trophy us fossils haven’t seen Arsenal lift, the holy grail if you will. We were thirteen minutes from lifting the bastard in Paris. Drawn against the holders, the best team in Europe, in the last sixteen this season we have to accept it looked a tough ask this time around. That isn’t to say though that we were done for. In my lifetime I reckon I have seen four poorer teams than the current Arsenal side win the bloody thing.
Tonight gave us a chance to show what we are all about, and for most of the opening half we were more than a match for a team expected to roll us over. The match may well have hinged on two incidents which resulted in penalties. To be fair both awards were spot on, but the punishments for those who conceded the spot-kicks were open to debate, at very least. Mesut Ozil, relishing the contest in the opening phase, turned inside Boateng and was brought down. Boateng was not the last man but that is no consideration in determining a goalscoring opportunity. Ozil would have had a close range opportunity to strike at goal had he not been checked. Yellow was the colour of the card.
Fast forward to seven minutes before the break, and Robben gets in behind the defence and beats Szczesny to the bouncing ball, knocking it away from the onrushing keeper and away from goal. There is no dispute that contact follows and the penalty award is correct, even if Robben somewhat exaggerates the degree of contact. It is doubtful he would have caught it if not impeded, but the red card is brandished. Really? By such fine margins do matches swing.
That both penalties were horrendous in their execution does not matter as much as the interpretation of their awards. Of course had someone other than Ozil stepped up and leathered the bloody thing into the net we would have had something to defend when at a numerical disadvantage. If is a piss poor concept. We could equally have been one down with fifty odd minutes to play rather than making it to half-time with the chance to pinch something, somehow.
Almost lost in the haze of a gripping opening half was the not insignificant loss of Kieran Gibbs on the half hour. To lose the best left-back we have was bad enough, but it had a bearing on the subsequent two remaining substitutions. After missing the penalty Ozil looked visibly down. Let me say this. He is a fantastic signing and will take us to another level in time. Yet tonight it was a surprise to see Santi Cazorla sacrificed before him given what we suspected would follow.
What we suspected indeed transpired. Give a great team like Bayern a numerical advantage and there is only one thing to attempt. So we had two banks of four, marshaled by the barking Flamini, with Sanogo a willing but lonely figure ahead of them. Could we hold out? In the end a magical Kroos strike did for our hopes of nicking a scoreless draw, and Muller’s header made the scoreline reflect the 88% possession by Bayern in the second-half.
So what conclusions do we draw? Definitely the interpretation of the penalty incidents had a bearing on the rest of the game, but if we are honest Bayern showed real class tonight (and yes we know Robben is a hideous bastard). They thoroughly deserved their win given the way the game panned out. We can cling to the hypothetical, that it would have been different eleven against eleven, or even ten against eleven in our favour, for Boateng was a very lucky boy tonight. The hypothetical is just that. We have to deal now with the reality that for a second season running we have to overturn a two goal deficit in Munich. We know we are capable of it, no matter how unlikely a repeat may appear tonight.
In the immediate aftermath it was hard not to be impressed by the reaction of Per Mertesacker and Pep Guardiola. For so much mutual respect to be expressed after such a controversial game is refreshing. Now if we can just turn a page or two of the dictionary, for then we could progress from respect to ruthless. That is what we need to be in three weeks. Again.
What do you mean, lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice?