Wednesday, May 29, 2024
HomeChampions LeagueGunners: No fodder for the cannons

Gunners: No fodder for the cannons

Arsenal FC are licking their wounds after the 1-0 defeat in Munich. The bottom line is that the elimination against FC Bayern in the Champions League quarter-finals was deserved. The reasons – and what needs to be improved

Bukayo Saka didn’t want to say anything, just like most of his colleagues. The England international left the mixed zone of the Munich Arena with his head hanging down and a blank look on his face. At least he did fulfill a fan’s selfie request and forced himself to give a half-smile.

He then strolled on towards the exit and, like many Arsenal professionals that night, he may have had similar thoughts running through his head: Why did we get knocked out, why did we almost all fall short of our potential? What happens next?

Whether he really thought about it or not will remain his secret. It would be obvious, and so let’s join in the search for an answer.

Arsenal were eliminated because they couldn’t play to their strengths

What is often put forward as the most banal of explanations also applies this time, and yet the fact that the opponent scored one more goal is significant in this case. After all, Bayern only scored one, Joshua Kimmich’s header. Arsenal were left without a goal, virtually without a real scoring chance in the second half and, above all, did not represent the team that is still in the Premier League championship race as second in the table.

Arsenal were eliminated because they did not play to their strengths: The counter-pressing was only half-hearted, one-on-one situations were not implemented boldly enough, attacking patterns of the kind that have led to success umpteen times before, for example with crosses or back passes into the penalty area and towards the penalty spot as the final assist, hardly took place and when they did, they missed miserably (Gabriel Martinelli). In terms of their attacking performance, the Gunners only had canons on the pitch, but they wouldn’t even have frightened sparrows with them

And because virtually every single player was not at their best, they were unable to find any solutions against a passionate Bayern defense and seemed caught off guard when the hosts became more assertive after the break and crowned their best phase with the goal of the day.

Saka is denied by Mazraoui and Guerreiro

Saka himself had no involvement in the scoring on Wednesday – something that had never happened to him before in the Champions League or Europa League when he played through, and last happened in the Premier League three-and-a-half years ago in the 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa. The left-footer was played through by the right-footed Noussair Mazraoui, who in turn was assisted by Raphael Guerreiro, who did well with the exception of an incisive pass in the early stages

Gabriel Martinelli’s hat-trick of errors

Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta was naturally bitterly disappointed after the game, saying that “mistakes are punished in the Champions League”, and will have been thinking in particular of Gabriel Martinelli, who scored a hat-trick of errors before conceding the decisive goal. He initially failed to put any pressure on the ball-wielding Kimmich, but at the same time stood so poorly that he allowed Leroy Sané to escape, only to switch off and only pick up Kimmich’s run again or register it when it was too late. The irony of the matter: pace is one of the reasons why the Brazilian is usually in the starting eleven, here he lacked it mentally and physically

The fact that Arsenal were eliminated, for the fifth time against Bayern, is neither a shame nor a drama. After all, the last time the club reached a semi-final was 15 years ago and they missed out again this time. But it was Arteta who brought the Londoners back into the international spotlight in the first place. However, he will also have noticed what an inconsistent season FC Bayern have had, so there is no telling when the chance of reaching the last four will be as good again. In terms of development, the elimination is unlikely to upset the club or the team. Winning the Champions League was not an obligation, but there are also lessons to be learned: that it’s not enough away from home, they already lost in Porto. That they need reinforcements in goal, at full-back and in the back six – even a great player like Jorginho is not getting any younger and often struggled to keep up with Jamal Musiala.

And then there’s the question of the overall structure. Declan Rice is celebrated (in Germany) as a super holding six, but plays eighth, for which he actually lacks esprit. Kai Havertz is a strong-running, strong-playing and goal-scoring eighth, but plays center forward. That works from time to time, yes, but he’s not a nine-man like Harry Kane or Niclas Füllkrug. And so the German international also went down in Munich. Gabriel Jesus is a playing nine, sometimes too ornate, not a consistently strong goalscorer

Three title chances squandered

Arsenal have squandered three title chances, in the League Cup at West Ham early on, in the FA Cup against Liverpool at home and now in the Premier League in Munich. In the Premier League, Manchester City and Liverpool FC are two rivals for the title who are weakening, and not just with regard to the current European Cup round. Unlike City, the Gunners do not have it in their own hands to become champions, but the chances are still there.

Last year they squandered a big lead and a huge opportunity, this time they once again failed to stay on top. So is Arsenal no longer a team, no longer a club that packs a punch, that thrives when it comes to trophies? A team that doesn’t lack class but lacks mental toughness? The thought could have crossed your mind in the arena on Wednesday. Perhaps it was also haunting Saka’s mind

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