Arsenal experienced pride and humiliation in equal measure against Bayern Munich in the second leg of their Champions League clash at the Emirates.
Pride in the high tempo first half performance, total humiliation by the end. 5-1 down following an abject performance in Germany the gap was always set to be too big.
The Gunners could surely never have envisaged losing 5-1 at home, but they did, falling at the last 16 stage once again, undone by going down to ten men at the start of the second period.
At least the large crowd had something to cheer about for a while, seemingly able for a night to enjoy a big game to the exclusion of fears that Arsenal may not secure a top four Premier League spot and hence miss out on Champions League qualification for next season, the refusal of Alexis Sanchez to sign a new contract, suggestions Mesut Ozil could quit too, and calls for the head of manager Arsene Wenger.
Yet this defeat and the extent of it put Arsenal’s difficulties into even starker focus. Arsenal showed real fight and verve at the outset before it all fell apart in the second 45 minutes.
Theo Walcott produced first, but a poor touch allowed Manuel Neuer to clear in his sweeper-keeper role. But Walcott was on fire and in the next significant attack played through three opponents helped by lady luck, and then thrashed the ball high into the net.
The sort of world class goal of which Walcott is capable yet produces all too infrequently. And it was the electric Walcott again who was very unlucky not to get a penalty when taken out in the box.
Looked very giveable, but the referee wouldn’t have it. Somewhere in between Olivier Giroud hit a post with a strange effort which came off head and shoulder.
At half time there was still hope even if Arsenal were missing too many chances. But that was cruelly taken away from the re-start.
Bayern were always a threat on the break and their cleverness fashioned an opening for the ever dangerous Robert Lewandowski. Lauren Koschielny fouled him – penalty given. Koschielny shown yellow and then, after consultation between the officials, harshly upgraded to red.
Lewandowski scored from the spot, Arsenal down to ten men, and the tie was over.
Now it was simply a question of whether the home side could keep the score down. They couldn’t. Arjen Robben scored after schoolboy confusion in what remained of the Arsenal defence.
Substitute Douglas Costa was on the score sheet next. Arturo Vidal made it four benefiting from yet another mistake, then added a fifth for good measure. It was agony and embarrassment for Arsenal and may well seal the fate of Wenger despite being one of the greatest managers English football has ever seen.
Wenger disputed the Lewandowski penalty, accused the referee of spoiling the game, hailed the huge effort of the players – he had a point but it was all somewhat akin to clutching at straws.
The end of an era? It is looking likely.
Lincoln City in the FA Cup next for Arsenal, a possible banana skin moment not bare thinking about!
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