Last night was a game of “what if?”.
What if Mesut Ozil scored the penalty? What even the referee had used a little lenience and shown Szczesny yellow instead of red? What if we’d been able to compete with Bayern Munich with an equal amount of players? What if Arjen Robben wasn’t such a monumental disgrace of a footballer?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to excuse our loss and claim that any of the above would have made a difference. I’d have simply preferred to see the manner in which the game played out if the aforementioned didn’t occur. Bayern were very worthy winners over 90 minutes. They have a team of exceptional players and looked very impressive in possession of the ball. You couldn’t help but be impressed – aside from Robben that is, who writhed around and irritated as he always does, and even appeared to spit on Bacary Sagna at one point.
For the first 30 minutes, we played very well. We had our chances to open the scoring and the atmosphere was buzzing - even in a pub in Bristol the sense of excitement and hope was palpable. However, as soon as Ozil blundered his spot-kick and Szczesny saw red, the odds stacked up against us and that hope was replaced by a sense of and dread and tension.
I’m not sure why Ozil took the penalty. I’m not going to defend him for what was an utterly woeful attempt to find the net – arguably worse than the shot he missed against Napoli. As he casually sauntered up to strike the ball, I didn’t have any confidence in him scoring. Mesut has taken a lot of flack since then, mostly frustrated abuse directed his way from Twitter users. He didn’t perform well, but you have to take into account he isn’t the type of player to perform admirably when asked to cover a full-back. It’s not his game, and it never has been. Plus, it is worth mentioning that it was his fabulous piece of skill that won the penalty in the first place, although, that doesn’t exactly excuse missing it. I preferred the days when the player that won the foul didn’t take the kick.
Mesut’s attitude has also been questioned, and I can’t say I don’t see why. He does exude a certain petulance when things don’t go his way. Perhaps he’s just frustrated with himself, but occasionally he is guilty of moping when he should be focusing on the game. It was good to see Flamini have a subtle word in his ear at one point in the second half.
If the momentum started to flag when the penalty was saved, it was totally depleted once Bayern were awarded one. There’s little doubt Szczesny’s challenge warranted penalising, but I can’t say I agree with the red card. Was it a clear goalscoring opportunity? Maybe, or maybe not. Robben was headed away from the goal after controlling the ball and Arsenal had a couple of players recovering behind him. The Dutchman also went down as if shot in the face with a grenade launcher, which irked me no end. However, going by the letter of the law, it’s a decision we have to accept – even with the grey area around it. The fact that Alaba also missed seems irrelevant at this point.
From then on, the game was dead. A man light against Bayern was always going to be a struggle up an icy hill wearing rollerskates. They kept the ball and ensured our players chased shadows. Eventually the goals came from a splendid strike by Kroos early in the second half and a header in the final stages from Muller. 2-0 down now seems insurmountable in the return fixture.
Strangely, I still feel calm about the result. In a sea of preposterous fury and countless calls for Player X and Player Z to be shoot into outer space, my feelings are simple; we lost to the best Club side in Europe with 10 men for over half of the game. For 30 minutes we had a really good go at them. Sometimes in football things go against you and you lose matches. Yes – it could have been a different story had Ozil opened the scoring, or if Szczesny stayed on the pitch. It could have been, but it wasn’t.
The players did there best and to throw vitriol at them in the face of defeat is churlish. Some deserve criticism, some do not. None of them warrant outrageously foolish and lengthy diatribes written across the Internet that come only from a place of bitterness and frustration. Some of them – Yaya Sanogo – did really well in patches and might even be worthy of a little praise – I’m beginning to quite like the look of the young Frenchman.
On that note, I feel it’s time to end this post. Realistically, the Champions League was the toughest ask of the three potentially winnable competitions we remain in. The prestige is the highest, but a little domestic success somehow has a nicer feel to it to me. I’m not entirely sure why. The game isn’t over, of course. We have gone to the Allianz Arena and won before, and we might just be able to do it again. It’ll be an extraordinarily difficult task, but not impossible. Who knows…
The comments are below. Use them to discuss the key points of the game and what your thought of the way things panned out. I’ll look forward to reading a few of them. I shall return with more tomorrow at the usual time.
As always; thanks for reading, you beautiful bastards.