Arsenal went to Munich needing three goals to have a chance at advancing to the next round of the Champions League today, a task that no team in the history of the competition has ever managed, and they just couldn't quite do it. They got two, against a Bayern side that looked as if the 3-1 score from the first leg would do quite nicely for them until it mattered, when they reverted to what is basically a terrifyingly good team.
It was to be a dream start for the Gunners, as less than four minutes into the match, Theo Walcott would find some room on the right and fire a low cross between the legs of Dante across the face of goal. Olivier Giroud was at the far post to smash home the shot from two yards, and the upset that nobody thought possible suddenly flickered into life on the distant horizon. The Allianz grew quiet.
For the next half hour, players on both sides slipped on the slick turf as flurries came down. Bayern were playing at just about the slowest possible tempo, and while Arsenal were pressing pretty well, they were struggling mightily with both their out balls and their holdup play. Passes simply were not connecting in the midfield or in the final third. Most of Bayern's threat came from long shots from Toni Kroos and Arjen Robben, which is to the defense's credit--rarely this year have Arsenal's back six looked as organized and resolute as they did today.
Nonetheless, there were still the odd moments of "uh oh". 28 minutes in, Robben escaped with only Carl Jenkinson in front of him, and as he bore down, Jenkinson backed up, backed up, backed up, and just...shepherded Robben away from danger. It was great fullback play, and fellow right back Gary Neville said on the television that it was really well done.
Arsenal's okay play went right up through half time, and as the second half started, the Allianz tried to come back to life. Robben and Kroos both opened the second half with efforts that came very, very close, and Thomas Müller hit the outside of the post. Arsenal kept pressing, and should have had an opportunity ten minutes into the half when Theo Walcott sprang the high line Bayern were playing only to be wrongly called offside.
Luis Gustavo shot just wide, as did Kroos again, and then Bayern should have put it to bed. Robben evaded a rash Jenkinson challenge to go clean through on goal, but Jenkinson is really fast and recovered nearly, putting just enough into his getting back to help out Lukasz Fabianski by cutting off one angle, and the Pole made a great save coming out, before the subs came in.
Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey exited for Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It didn't make too much difference overall, although Gervinho had a chance 79 minutes in where he squeezed a shot trickling under Manuel Neuer that went just wide of the far post. That seemed like it would have been it, but seven minutes later, it happened.
Arsenal won a corner, and Santi Cazorla went to take. His delivery was good, and Koscielny met it squarely and buried it in the bottom corner. Arsenal's away fans erupted as Neuer laid on the ball, sparking a bit of a kerfuffle. But it was 0 - 2, and Arsenal were now staring straight into the face of a small miracle.
That's when Bayern basically said "no more," though. For the next seven minutes until the final whistle, Arsenal basically couldn't get close to the goal, and as injury time ticked away, Mikel Arteta--who had been largely very good on the day--committed not one, but two silly fouls that soaked up almost all of the time, and that was it. 3 - 3 on aggregate, Bayern through on away goals, the first leg mostly the problem--none of this will console Arsenal fans, but they can take heart from the fact that their team saw an opportunity and nearly took it, playing solid defense the whole way, and won away at one of the toughest teams around, no matter the circumstance. Can they build on this going forward? Only time will tell, but Carl Jenkinson summed up the team's feelings when asked by Geoff Shreeves how it felt to go eight years without silverware: "I don't want to talk about that tonight--we're just going to focus on the positives".
Come on, you Gunners. Come on.