In a homecoming event that will haunt the nightmares of the home fans for years to come, Arsenal’s hopes of progressing past the last 16 stage of the Champions League were left in tatters once again Tuesday night as they were blown away by a dominant performance from Arsene Wenger's rampant Bayern Munich side.
Wenger has enjoyed something of a renaissance since leaving the Emirates in acrimonious circumstances last summer to replace the retiring Carlo Ancelotti, and this evening's result was a testament to the pragmatism, flexibility and tactical innovation he has shown throughout the season in guiding Bayern to a commanding 18-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga.
Few shone brighter on the night than Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, who demonstrated once again the same stolid commitment to Wenger's methods that that they displayed last June in taking wage cuts to follow him over to the Allianz Arena. Wenger will have been pleased with the finesse and composure the Chilean forward showed in converting five goals from the latter's pinpoint assists- although he might perhaps have been even more delighted with Ozil's industry and work rate in defence, with the German notching up a remarkable sixteen tackles and twelve interceptions in his own half alone over the course of the game.
To the same extent Bayern were thrilling on the night, Arsenal were nothing less than dismal. The Gunners manager Ray Parlour- who has faced persistent criticism throughout the season for his ‘fatalistically defensive’ tactics and team selections- gambled on an experimental formation to try and contain Bayern's attacking threat, surprising pundits and supporters alike with his decision to line up Hector Bellerin, Gabriel Paulista, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal in a cautious back six.
The gameplan, Parlour explained before the game, was to "sit tight and pray for a draw- sweet merciful Christ, please just let us have a draw". The futility of this approach was exposed swiftly, repeatedly, and brutally as Sanchez effectively killed off the tie with three goals inside the opening seven minutes of the game. This chain of events forced Parlour into an early first substitution as David Ospina ran off the pitch in tears after Sanchez completed his hattrick with a rabona lob from 35 yards- hours after the game, the keeper's whereabouts remain unknown.
Bayern largely eased off the pressure from this point onward and, perhaps preoccupied by thoughts of the more formidable challenge that lays ahead on Saturday at home against Eintracht Braunschweig, Wenger was confident enough in the chances of a result to only send 9 players out for the second half. The sense that the Frenchman wasn't taking the tie entirely seriously was hardly dispelled by his decision to instruct his players to deliberately allow a soft goal from a set piece in front of the Clock End "just for nostalgia's sake".
Despite Wenger's efforts to even the tie up, Sanchez went on to net twice more late on as Bayern capitalised on a total collapse of Arsenal's discipline. A disagreement over the taking of a corner in the 73rd minute escalated into a mass brawl that saw multiple Arsenal players being dismissed by referee Mike Dean- an incident praised by Parlour as "basically the only evidence of effort and intent we showed on the night". Compounding the general misery of the evening, the kicked shin that Jack Wilshere sustained in the fracas is expected to keep him out for the rest of the season.
Arsenal fans will be left despairing an abject surrender in a European tie that they were relying on to provide them with a glimmer of light in what has been a torrid first season of adjusting to life without Wenger. The club is already out of the FA Cup following a shock defeat at the hands of Bromley FC and is currently languishing in 13th place in the league, although Parlour will be relieved by the Arsenal board's recent statement describing results so far as "roughly in line with our ambitions for a transitional season".
Reflecting on the result. the chair of club's Supporter's Trust commented that: "everyone involved with the club has learned a valuable lesson about being careful what you wish for, and the one thing all of us are crossing our fingers for now is the sudden and merciful heat death of the universe".