While the aftermath of Arsenal’s dismantling by Bayern Munich on Tuesday night will centre around Arsene Wenger’s future and his evolutionary odyssey that continues to edge ever close to an end, it cannot be overlooked that the side who left north London victorious had just made a genuine case that this could be the year that ends their twelve year wait for a Champions League success.
Arsenal had been dogged with disappointment throughout the season and the growing pressure on Wenger had reached evidently new heights as the Frenchman took to a press conference to voice his anger and frustration following a dismal FA Cup knockout at the hands of Blackburn.
They had been embarrassingly eliminated by League Two Bradford in the League Cup, hopes of qualification for next year’s Champions League dangle by a thread domestically and they were heading in to battle with Bayern’s well-oiled machine resembling a lame dog about to be finally put out of his misery. The quest to end a wait of eight years without a trophy was all ready to head over to a ninth.
It was not that Bayern beat Arsenal on Tuesday night but the ease in which they did it. Only a rousing second-half display saw Arsenal come out of the game with any shred of dignity left intact as their German visitors looked content enough to hold their hosts by the puppet strings, waiting patiently for the right time to strike their venom. Sadly, in the second round of UEFA’s flagship competition, their was a huge gulf in class between the two sides.
Bayern sit clear at the top of the Bundesliga by a margin of 15 points and on a run of 13 matches unbeaten in which they have not conceded a single goal since the 14th December. In fact, the only goals they had let past them in that 13 match run were in 1-1 draws against Monchengladbach, Dortmund and Nuremburg as news of Pep Guardiola’s imminent arrival at the end of the season showed now signs of halting the Jupp Heynckes juggernaut that are intent on banishing the heartache of last season’s failure from the memory.
Not only did they lose out on the Bundesliga to Borrusia Dortmund by a margin of 8 points, but they lost the DFB Pokal, Germany’s domestic cup competition, to them too, comprehensively outplayed in the final to a scoreline of 5-2.
Then they contrived to lose the Champions League final on penalties to Chelsea after dominating throughout, in the comfort of their own home of the Allianz Arena. Sebastian Schwiensteiger missed the decisive penalty and was in tears, epitomising the agony Heynckes and his side had suffered.
Uli Hoeness, Bayern’s president, was present on that terrible night and immediately set out his plans to turn his club into winners again, “we used to laugh at Leverkusen for always finishing second, now that is us”, he said. Sporting director Christian Nerlinger was replaced by Mathias Sammer, while Hoeness went about renovating the spine of the side.
In came Monchengladbach’s centre-half Dante who has since become a Brazil international, Basle’s supremely talented young winger Xherdan Shaqiri and Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic, joint top scorer at Euro 2012, for a combined total of £25 million. Mandzukic has 17 goals for Bayern and is currently joint-top scorer in the Bundesliga.
Most notably of all, a Bundesliga record fee of €40 million saw Javi Martinez, Athletic Bilbao’s deep lying midfielder, arrive to add steel to the midfield, or the “biter” as Hoeness called it.
That Hoeness admitted his club “probably paid €10 million too much” was indicative of the lengths the club had to go to in order to land the 24 year old who has slotted seamlessly into the side alongside Schwiensteiger and the young Toni Kroos.
It was Kroos, another sensational product of the new generation of German technicians heading into next year’s World Cup, who set them on their way against Arsenal with a sublimely taken half volley before Thomas Muller, another young native of supreme talent, made it two. A mistake by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer allowed Lukas Podolski to half the deficit before Mandzukic restored the two away-goal advantage that looks unassailable ahead of the second leg.
Wenger described Bayern as “a team of class” as the dust began to settle at the Emirates and he was perfectly correct. It was a defence missing Holder Badstuber, their best centre-half, that coped so easily against Arsenal’s front line. Martinez and Schwiensteiger marshalled the area in front of it with poise and intelligence with Kroos buzzing around in advance of them.
Full-backs David Alaba and captain Phillip Lahm had the freedom of the flanks to march forward and it was the latter’s sublime cross that set up the third goal. That Heynckes can leave Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben on the bench, both of whom saw cameos here, suggests the embarrassment of riches available to Heycnkes that will soon be under the influence of Guardiola.
The Spanish manager turned Barcelona into a footballing version of the all-conquering Harlem Globetrotters during his four years in Catalonia, winning 14 trophies along the way, and this behemoth that Heycnkes and Hoeness have built, intent on reaching their third Champions League final in four years, is the perfect reason to end his sabbatical.
Bayern look dominant domestically, dominant on the continent and under the stewardship of Guardiola’s genius, that dominance could go on for a considerable while yet.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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