Saturday, 22 February 2014

Arsenal 0-2 Bayern: If you want to blame one, blame Ozil

Mixed feelings would be the best way to describe this game. After an astonishingly superb start to the game, Ozil (possibly our best player till then) proceeded to oh-so predictably miss a penalty and infect his disinterest onto the entire crowd support. Later, a fairly awarded penalty was made to seem a bit harsh when Szczesny was shown a straight red card. Although Alaba's miss provided brief hope to the hosts, Szczesny's sending off proved decisive and individual errors cost Arsenal a potential Champions League quarter finals entry.

Throughout 90 minutes this game had everything. Dread, fear, hope, frustration and glory. I'm just disappointed that it ended in a defeat, more so because we had the chance to show Europe's finest where Arsenal stood. I'll be analyzing this match through the key points, and boy were they a lot!

The team selection...
...I have to admit, was spot on. Wenger played everyone I asked for, but started Yaya Sanogo up front instead of Giroud. I can only assume that in the aftermath of revealing his extra-marital affair, either Olivier Giroud personally told Wenger he didn't want to start or Wenger himself deemed it unfit to play Ollie. Either ways, starting a Ligue 2 injury prone striker at his CL debut against Bayern Munich seemed to border on insanity.

I was incensed. I could understand if the manager was forced to drop Giroud, but why not play Lukas Podolski or (I can't believe I'm saying this) Nicklas Bendtner instead? Especially Podolski, who has 120 caps for a country regarded as favourites to win the World Cup, not to mention being the best finisher in the side. What, Sanogo gets the nod because he's French? What was Wenger up to there?

We know how it unraveled, though. Sanogo had a much better game than he had against Liverpool, and that's saying something. I always felt that Sanogo was too similar to Giroud or Bendtner, and that the latter two were better than him in those repetitive skills. However, Sanogo gave us a new dimension in mobility, a willingness to drift to the flanks and workrate that would put Giroud to shame.

I was impressed by his performance, he seems like another good find by Wenger. I still don't buy the suggestions that Sanogo should be a regular starter over Giroud. However I have to admit, if he can keep this up, maybe Wenger did have a legitimate reason to not buy a striker in January.

Our start...
Was unexpected, superb and made me proud. For the first 10 minutes, no one would deny that we were the better side in the game. Sanogo, Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere looked inspired, and closed the best team in the world to set up presentable chances for ourselves. Szczesny even pulled a magnificent save to deny Kroos the opener to keep us hunting.

I never expected this from Arsenal. An incomplete squad bereft of Ramsey, Theo and Giroud somehow managed to produce a fine initial display against a team like Bayern. I know that as an Arsenal supporter I believed, but it was more out of compulsion than optimism. I actually reckon that had Ozil not missed the penalty, we would have won this game. Speaking of which...

Ozil penalty miss...
Was sickening, predictable and downright infuriating. Prior to the penalty, Ozil looked like a man determined to make amends for his lack of commitment in previous matches. He had redeemed some of his pride against United and Liverpool, and looked set to do that on such a high mantle as well. The way he won the penalty was a testament to his class as well.

But then he decided to get too cheeky.

From the moment the commentator announced who was taking the penalty, I closed my eyes in expectant anguish. I'll just say it - Mesut Ozil is a pathetic penalty taker. Against Montpellier it was evident, only now did it become showcased to the whole world. I don't care if walking up to the ball is his 'style', all I know is that it's a shitty way to take a penalty and that he shouldn't be allowed to take one for Arsenal ever again. Ever.

Losing the battle of wits was bad enough, but hiding from the match after that is much, much worse. From then on, he completely switched off and was subsequently told by Wilshere and Flamini, both of whom have much more passion for the club than Ozil. I don't care what statistics say, we've been in the footballing business far too long to know that they don't tell the whole story.

What I saw on the pitch was not a world-class player who is the face of Arsenal. What I saw was a player who doesn't care if his team wins or loses. I saw a player who would prefer making the Germany squad for Rio than watch Arsenal lift the Premier League or the FA Cup. I saw a player who plays with a mentality that he's doing Arsenal a favour, who believes himself to be superior than everyone else on the pitch.

Ozil cannot get away with anything. After giving up against Bayern Munich his form has come under intense scrutiny by everyone, which would only mean a good thing in hindsight. One hopes that Ozil will perform under pressure, starting against Sunderland. His psychological boost off the pitch has evaporated, which is amazingly rendering him a bit obsolete on it.

Being out of form and not wanting to chase a half-ball are not connected: this is why I like players such as Giroud more than Ozil. Giroud will give his all even if things aren't working out for him. Ozil won't.

Szczesny, the red card and Alaba's miss...
I'm not sure that Szczesny deserved to be sent off, but I have no doubts that it was a penalty. Kieran Gibbs was brought off after an injury and his replacement Nacho Monreal allowed Robben the freedom of movement. Robben made a diagonal run into the box after a delicious ball by Toni Kroos, and Szczesny had little choice but to go for it.

He brought Robben down, a penalty was given and Szczesny was duly sent off, a bit reminiscent of the 2006 final. Thankfully, Alaba missed the penalty, but most of the crowd were still subconsciously aware that defending a clean sheet, outnumbered against the best team in the world was a task too many.

Was it a penalty? A firm yes; Szczesny had clearly clipped Robben's feet. The point is moot on how much Robben decided to cry on it, the fact was that anything other than a penalty would have been really harsh on Bayern. But was it a red card? I'm not so sure. In fact, I'm in one of those states of mind that a red card seemed really harsh for Arsenal, but a yellow would have seemed harsh for Bayern.

It turned out that Bayern got the benefit of the doubt there, and even though Alaba gave us another chance, everyone sensed that it was kind of game over there. Credit to all players (except Ozil) for working really hard to keep it at that scoreline, but it was almost when rather than if regarding Bayern opening up our defence.

The two goals...
...were a result of individual errors. Ozil's laziness on the left flank made it almost inevitable that he would be a culprit in us conceding. Bayern were targeting our left flank, and Ozil and Monreal were letting them do that. From passing to the left to bringing it to the centre to passing it on the left again, Kroos got some space and finished it beautifully. I know that many might be inclined to blame Monreal or Ozil particularly, but I never felt the need to barrack them in person for this goal.

However, there can be no doubt that Koscielny was to blame for the second. No doubt as a result of frustration, Koscielny ran to the half-line and lost the ball. Bayern saw the hole in the team, and being the ruthless team that they are, punished us through a Muller header. Flamini was partly at fault too, but I couldn't see the sense in Koscielny sprinting forward when overturning a 1-0 deficit was possible at the Allianz Arena.

Someone has to screw up in big matches, when they play for Arsenal. It's almost like compulsion.

On what it means to the tie...
I still think that if we put in the necessary effort, we can overturn a 2-0 deficit. With the return of Aaron Ramsey, the team will be strengthened and motivated to reproduce what they did the last time they visited this stadium. I have not forgotten that we had a fantastic start to this game, but were let down by an Ozil miss and the crowd falling flat after that. Yes, we can go to the quarter finals.

But the question arises - is it really necessary? What's the virtue in putting so much sweat in a match that won't really help our trophy chances? Yes, we can win the match and the tie, but the chances of doing so are really low, even though I have sounded uncharacteristically optimistic earlier about our chances. In addition, ambitions like the Premier League and the FA Cup are much more realistic - why risk injuries and stamina in a potential dead rubber?

I say we cut our losses, play a fresh, substitute lineup and view this game as a bonus friendly than an obstacle to Champions League glory. Playing youth footballers on a big occasion with no pressure will free them of expectations yet instill them with motivation. Yaya Sanogo surprised them, who knows, maybe Nicklas Bendtner will as well? (I kid, of course).


Oh yeah, and Wenger's decision to keep Ozil on for 90 minutes was cowardly. He needs to grow a pair and bench Mesut for players like Podolski or Rosicky.

Calm down, Gooners. No one expected us to win this anyway, yet we almost could have.

P.S. Preview for the Sunderland game will not be available. Apologies.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

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