Having been written off by every man and his dog in the run up to the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie against Bayern Munich on Wednesday, Arsenal managed to surprise everyone by coming agonisingly close to an astonishing turnaround.
After conceding three away goals at the Emirates Stadium two weeks earlier in a 3-1 defeat, the Gunners arrived at the Allianz Arena knowing that they had to breach the German giants’ stubborn defence three times to have any chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.
A colossal task for sure, but Arsene Wenger’s side nearly made history. Striker Olivier Giroud blasted into the roof of the net early on and Laurent Koscielny’s header somehow found the near post with four minutes to play, setting up a frantic finish.
However an extremely off-form Bayern held on by their fingertips to avoid embarrassment on home turf and secure their place in the Champions League quarter-finals – something not a single English club has managed to do for the first time since the 1995/96 campaign.
It was a performance which restored a certain amount of pride for this Arsenal setup. Bayern had not lost on home soil since October and rarely drop points at their own stadium. Having outplayed what is probably the most in-form team across the whole of the continent this year, the Gunners can certainly enjoy a boost to their confidence.
But the extenuating circumstances must be taken into account. Having triumphed in north London, Jupp Heynckes’ men knew that they had the luxury of being able to relax, to a certain extent, for the second leg.
Ideally, they would not have liked to have turned in such a pathetic performance but, ultimately, it was still enough to progress. Had the tie been more evenly balanced, the likelihood of Arsenal dispatching the Bundesliga leaders would be far more far-fetched – hence the first leg result, which offers a fairer reflection of where both teams are.
The Gunners must now turn their attentions back to domestic duty – their bread and butter. If they do not adopt a similarly resilient attitude for the remainder of the Premier League campaign, they may not get another chance to play the likes of Bayern for at least another 12 months. That would be a major setback.
In the race for Champions League qualification, Wenger’s team are five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea and seven from local rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Arsenal will have been delighted at the successful progression of both teams in the Europa League and will hope that that competition proves to be an unhelpful distraction for them.
But should Spurs and Chelsea pull away from the Gunners, there may be a time when Wenger has to look over his shoulder. Liverpool and Everton are just two points away from Arsenal, and West Brom just a further two behind.
Failure to qualify for any European competition would be genuinely catastrophic and, while the chances of that happening are minimal, it’s something that Arsenal must be wary of over the coming weeks.
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