Arsenal’s Champions League lesson reveals true Bayern Munich quality

It was expected to be a great statement from Arsenal, but then it could have been so much worse. The important point is they are alive in the quarter-final after a pulsating 2-2 first leg, where the very spirit of the Champions League seemed to bring so much more out of Bayern Munich.

Harry Kane even scored the penalty that made it 2-1 and put Arsenal on the brink, only for Mikel Arteta’s side to rally superbly with an exacting Leandro Trossard finish.

This was probably the main lesson from the game, that is as important to the second leg in Munich as the aggregate score.

It showed the value of experience at this kind of level, but also how you start to develop it.

Arsenal initially threw everything at Bayern thinking they could overwhelm, only to be significantly undercut by a proper canniness, before adapting and showing their quality.

They were also left with a sense of grievance after being denied a penalty in the final action of the game, although it did look like one where Bukayo Saka left a leg out hoping for contact.

Saka goes down in the box after a collision with Neuer (Getty Images)

It was maybe fitting in its own way that even a draw like this ended with a flash, since this had gone back and forth so much.

It initially looked like it was only going one way, like the opening goal.

Even before Saka shaped, it was one of those openings where you could visualise exactly what he was going to do. He was always going to curl the ball into the far corner. Manuel Neuer probably knew that, too, but could do very little about it. The ball flowed into the net, as Arsenal were surging.

Saka fired the Gunners ahead in what was the perfect start for Arsenal (Action Images via Reuters)

Neuer did what he does best minutes later, though. The goalkeeper spread himself brilliantly as Ben White closed down on goal, almost daring the right-back into a shot straight at him. It was a poor finish given the position he was in, but Neuer did enough on his end.

Arsenal would surely have preferred almost anyone else bearing down on goal there.

It played into a strange turning point in the game.

Arsenal felt too comfortable, to the point of complacency. That directly resulted in the unnecessary mix-up between David Raya and Gabriel, that let Bayern through on goal. Leon Goretzka showed real force to power through from that era, before offering a bit of finesse in playing Serge Gnabry in. The former Arsenal youth player rolled the ball in.

Bayern were back in. They were really transformed, in so many ways.

Arsenal gifted Bayern a route back into the game (Reuters)

The German champions, soon to be deposed, were looking like a properly commanding side again. Arsenal meanwhile went from looking so confident in throwing everything forward to showing real nerves. There were suddenly so many attacks where one of Bayern’s forwards – usually Leroy Sane – was breaking at pace, with only Gabriel ahead of him. Or, sometimes, behind him. That’s why it could have been so much worse.

Kane scoring the goal that put Bayern ahead was bad enough.

Arsenal were sufficiently shaken into giving away a needless penalty on Sane, and the former Tottenham Hotspur striker rolled it in with composure. Kane was later lucky not to be sent off for a stray elbow.

Kane was booked after catching Gabriel in the face (Reuters)

It wasn’t the only time that Bayern went a bit beyond gamesmanship.

This was the invigorating thing about the game at that point, though. It felt a proper Champions League tie in the levels it was going too. It was a throwback, almost.

Bayern have been so calamitously porous for weeks, where some of Germany’s most moderate sides have brutally exposed a fragility in them, but they were now keeping Arsenal at arm’s length like an Italian side out of the 1990s. It said much that Odegaard so often had the ball in the pocket in front of the Bayern area, only to be forced to roam very far wide.

There was real game management, too, constantly disrupting Arsenal’s rhythm. Perhaps that’s where experience came in, too.

For all Bayern’s recent issues, they have a lot of nous from so many seasons in this competition. Arsenal don’t. It was almost like they let the occasion get to them. It’s even possible the lack of away fans played into that, since it took away some of the atmosphere.

Arsenal had to do something, though. Arteta had to do something. They had created so little since the first half.

There were then two key subs. One was Sane going off, taking away some of Bayern’s thrust. The other was Trossard going on.

Trossard equalised ahead of next week’s return leg in Munich (Action Images via Reuters)

There was almost immediate effect.

Gabriel Jesus did superbly to finally get into the Bayern box, before doing even better to work the ball and the space. The Brazilian flicked the ball across to Trossard who finished so smartly past Neuer.

That set a tense mood for the final few minutes, but also sets up an enthralling second leg.

This was a real Champions League quarter-final, as Bayern reminded everyone there’s a real team there.

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