FFT’s Joe Brewin reports back from the Emirates Stadium press box after the Gunners’ big win over Pep’s boys...
1) Petr Cech won’t be getting dropped again
The daggers were out for Arsene Wenger after Arsenal capitulated against Olympiakos last time out, and it’s after games like this that hammer it home why. Of course, on that night it was David Ospina’s howler which proved the source of Gunners’ frustrations, but against Bayern Munich here, Petr Cech was in outstanding form to help earn the north Londoners a vital win in Group F.
Arsenal had their Czech netminder to thank for a string of fine saves before substitute Olivier Giroud headed in the crucial opener; first a brilliant stop to deny Thiago after the Spaniard’s incisive one-two with Thomas Muller, then three more via Arturo Vidal, Robert Lewandowski and the lively Douglas Costa before half-time. The most crucial of the lot came with 15 minutes to go when Lewandowski wriggled through the Gunners’ backline and forced Cech to tip over.
The former Chelsea man’s heroics were exacerbated only two minutes later when his opposite number Neuer – who himself had kept out a Theo Walcott header quite miraculously in the first half – got nowhere near Santi Cazorla’s free-kick and Giroud bundled home from close range. The latter will claim the headlines, but Cech’s reliability allowed him to in the first place.
2 - Petr Cech has conceded only two goals in his last five full appearances in the Champions League. Pedigree.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 20, 2015
2) Costa wins the battle, Bellerin wins war
Nobody would have been more relieved to hear the referee’s half-time whistle than Hector Bellerin, who spent the first half pegged back in his own defensive third after being run ragged by Bayern’s brilliant Douglas Costa.
The young Spaniard earned plaudits for his performance at Watford on Sunday, but faced his biggest test since being thrown in at the deep end against Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion for his Champions League debut last year.
It didn’t start well. Costa was Bayern’s out-ball for the first period as Arsenal aimed to keep things tight through the middle, which meant space was afforded to the visitors’ Brazilian wideman to exploit. Costa ran riot against the relatively inexperienced Bellerin, winning 6 of his 7 attempted take-ons and flinging in 9 dangerous crosses his team-mates couldn’t convert.
After the break, however, Wenger’s timely tactical tweak (more on that later) meant Pep Guardiola shifted his dangerman to the other flank, which gave Bellerin breathing room (see the Stats Zone screen below). And after taking care of his defensive duties in the second period, the Gunners' 20-year-old right-back hared forward not once but twice to provide vital attacking contributions in the latter stages – the second leading the counter-attack to assist Mesut Ozil for Arsenal’s second goal.
“Costa is a top-class player and Bellerin showed what I like,” Wenger declared post-match. “It was an interesting fight between two top-level players but in the end Hector found the resources in the last 10-15 minutes to get on top of him. That is fantastic to see from a boy of 20 years old.
“Apart from the game I like the fact he has the desire to get on top of his opponent until the last minute; the competitive edge that can win you the game.”
3) Arsenal made striking variations count
Theo Walcott was denied a goal only by Neuer’s brilliance, but the England man’s performance against the Bundesliga champions was… well, very Theo Walcott.
The 26-year-old capitalised when Arsenal countered in the first half, once again using his pace to dovetail effectively with the bullish Alexis Sanchez on the break, but when the chances fell to him – and they did regularly – his finishing was often found wanting. If only indeed.
Generally this was no game for Giroud – it was quick, played at a frenzied pace for large parts – but then Arsenal needed a goal, and Plan B, late in the game. The Frenchman’s first contribution was to win a free-kick; his second to bundle home the resulting set-piece from close range. After that he was something of a man possessed, bullying Bayern’s defenders aerially (he could have netted a second immediately afterwards) and demonstrating the full capabilities of Wenger’s toolkit.
“I would give him [Giroud] some credit because it’s not easy,” said Wenger. “He had a little bit of a dip in form but I have seen in two weeks that he is coming back to his best. The focus he brings, the spirit he shows, he is a winner. He gives us a different option when it doesn’t work on the ground. I like Walcott, I like Giroud; I just have to use them in the right way.”
4) Wenger’s brain is still working
There’s no doubt Wenger had his goalkeeper to thank for Arsenal’s win, and indeed Neuer for the late blunder that helped his north Londoners to all three points (though the same player could well have been patted on the back before that). But even then, the Gunners’ head honcho deserves some rare credit for the way in which he set his team up in the second half to respond to Bayern’s ominous advances.
By shifting his backline closer towards Cech in the second half, the Frenchman effectively slashed the chances of Bayern getting their widemen around the back to cause more havoc, which meant Costa was eventually forced to the opposite flank in the hope that cutting inside may unlock the door. They managed only 9 second-half crosses to their 17 in the first half, and scarcely created chances close to goal like they did before the break.
“It was not deliberate [to let Bayern have possession] from the start,” he admitted. “But when we played halfway they caught us open a bit so I decided to drop us back and make them work around the box.”
When asked whether Arsenal’s sitting back was planned by Wenger, a respectful Guardiola affirmed: “No, we work a lot to control the ball. Our first step is to create our two-vs-ones. They [Arsenal] wanted to push up and press. They did it against Manchester United, they did it two years ago against us. It’s amazing how they play and we know that.
“We did not just pass, pass – we created enough situations to win the game. I’m so proud of my team. I like to win, I’m not happy, but we played with a lot of courage. I know you cannot expect to come here and create chances. Arsenal have very very good players, fast players, but we were there with a lot of personality. After that I can only say congratulations to them.”
There’s also just cause for a hat tip to Wenger for Giroud’s goal, after commanding his team to go direct in their hunt for a winner. “I saw that our players wanted to play it short,” he shrugged. “But we had to win the game and take a gamble on that. We had Giroud on the pitch and I knew we had a good chance to score.”
Score they did, and Arsene could go home happy after a job well done.