Bayern give Arsenal a painful Champions League lesson

MUNICH — Bayern Munich manager Thomas Tuchel said his team’s Champions League experience would give them an advantage over Arsenal and he was right. Bayern advanced to the semifinals with a 1-0 win secured through Joshua Kimmich‘s 63rd-minute header, the crowning moment of a well-executed game plan which nullified the Gunners to the extent they managed just two shots of any description in the second half.

Arsenal have been humiliated in the Allianz Arena in past visits. They lost 5-1 on their previous two visits but while there was nothing like the gulf in class evident then, Mikel Arteta’s side will leave Germany with a sense of regret at failing to produce their best when it mattered most.

Once again, one of the few remaining criticisms leveled at this young side remains unanswered: can they deliver when the pressure is at its greatest?

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There can be no excuses. Bayern were depleted yet still disciplined, missing Alphonso Davies through suspension alongside Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman due to injury. Yet they were content to mirror Aston Villa‘s 2-0 win at Emirates Stadium last Sunday to some extent: stay compact, don’t press high up and minimize mistakes before increasing the tempo in the second half. The combination flummoxed Arsenal.

“The first half for me was more of a chess game where nobody wanted to sacrifice a figure on the board, nobody wanted to make the first move and open up a bit of a gap,” said Tuchel. “It was hard for us to find moments of acceleration. When we found it, it looked dangerous. Arsenal found some moments of acceleration and looked straight away more dangerous but in the second half we demanded we show more personality, to take more risk to shorten the distances, play more over the shoulders and not just the obvious pass.

“Maybe there is some percentage [where the experience made a difference]. We knew that we have been in these situations, this stadium has been in these situations, and we pushed it over the line. It is not easy to be away in the second leg,” Tuchel added.

Arteta is not generally the sort of coach to admit he was surprised by an opponent’s approach but he acknowledged the step change in Bayern’s style, noting “it’s hard to break the opponents down when they play in the manner that they did — which they never normally do.

“We expected that approach as they believed that it was the best way to beat us. Credit to them and congratulate them for what they’ve done. When there were little margins, they’ve done better that’s for sure.”

Arteta was right to describe this more generally as a tie of “very small margins.” Arsenal were 1-0 up in last week’s first leg when Ben White had a clear chance to extend that lead. They also created the first half’s most dangerous moment here when Gabriel Martinelli fired straight at Manuel Neuer after good work from Martin Odegaard.

But their match winners did not come to the fore when the tie was decided in the second half here.

“I saw the players really willing to try their best,” said Arteta. “It wasn’t enough. It’s true that we lacked the magic to unlock the game and open that door when the game requires. We didn’t have it. That’s why we are out.”

Arsenal’s away form in Europe is an obvious area for improvement. Losing by a solitary unanswered goal in this stunning arena is no disgrace but it concludes a run of just one win in five away games including defeats in Lens and Porto. Porto employed “dark arts'” tactics to disrupt Arsenal’s rhythm in Portugal. Here, Bayern kept the game tight and trusted themselves to define the big moments when they came.

Tuchel said that Leroy Sané had to “bite on his teeth,” such was the pain he was playing through and so he was selective in the moments to use his blistering pace to maximum effect. The German winger contributed significantly to the goal in that regard, breezing away from Martinelli and producing a cross which David Raya got a glove on. Raphaël Guerreiro picked up the loose ball and sent the ball back into the box where Kimmich took advantage of Arsenal’s failure to regroup, swooping in between flat-footed pair Martinelli and Declan Rice to plant a firm header past Raya.

Tuchel hailed Arsenal as an “elite team” after this and Arsenal’s first Champions League campaign in seven years is hardly a catastrophe. But it is a reminder that they have generally been ahead of schedule in the Arteta era, especially in the context of more established sides requiring a lengthy period of adaptation to this competition.

Manchester City, for example, dominated domestically but had to wait until last year to finally triumph in Europe. The Gunners are palpably further behind in their evolution, as Arteta underlined.

“We haven’t played this competition for seven years and we haven’t been in this stage for 14 years,” said Arteta. “There’s a reason for it. We want to do everything fast forward super quick in one season. I think we have the capacity and the quality to be in the semifinal because the margins are very small.

“Those margins are coming from something else that maybe we don’t have yet. We have to learn it. When you look historically it took other clubs seven, eight or 10 years to do it. Today that’s not going to make us feel better that’s for sure.”

It is be a painful lesson, but one Arsenal must learn to avoid being edged out like this in future.