After a demoralising defeat to Spurs last Sunday, Arséne Wenger and our club proved their critics wrong by defeating what was a very strong Bayern team. Despite the result we lost on away goals, but surely a result like this could have a huge impact on our season. Here are the things I took away from the match and the implications that they have.
Fabianski and Koscielny looked very good
I know everybody has talked about it – but there is a reason for it.
Before last night’s performance Fabianski looked set to leave Arsenal at the end of the season. Today he looks set to take over from Szczęsny for the rest of the season. Fabianski produced a very solid performance and his handling was in particular impressive. He did make one mistake during the game in failing to latch onto a cross across the face of the goal, but all in all he looked far better than our other Pole in the goal. Furthermore, he looked impressively self-assured when organising the defence - for a man who has previously been criticised for a lack of confidence, this is surely a great thing. I understand that knee-jerk decisions based on one performance are foolish, but surely his performance warrants more chances to prove himself.
With the poor form of Vermaelen, Koscielny was given his chance yesterday and boy did he take it. His defensive positioning was impeccable and he took his goal very well. Not a lot more needs to be said about him, but I would be surprised if he didn’t start the next game.
Rosicky looked distinctly average
The final rotation player given his chance, didn’t live up to expectations. I still think he’s a good player, but unfortunately our Czech midfielder looked, unsurprisingly, out of practice. Clearly he still has a lot of talent, and was consistently getting stuck in; he had good vision during play, but was repeatedly misplacing his passes and mistiming his heading. He is clearly symptomatic of a lack of match practice; but with Wilshere out for a few weeks, I would expect to see him featuring a couple of times over the next few weeks, and I would expect to see his performances improving.
Defensive organisation was key
Perhaps one of our best defensive displays this season. Don’t let the 25 shots that Bayern took deceive you, despite the attacking prowess in their team Bayern managed to make very few clear-cut chances and most of their efforts were long shots. Credit is due to Koscielny, but the use of a deeper line, a smaller gap between the midfielders and defence, and battling performances by Arteta and Ramsey, also made our defence look much sturdier.
The willingness to drop deeper was key last night, and we saw a strong display from Mertesacker. Given his relative lack of pace is it surprising that he prospered when the line dropped? Wenger will no doubt look at this and we may see our side playing more deeply in future weeks. Wenger seems to favour the use of the 4-2-3-1 when playing tougher opposition, and despite its favouring defence, the fact that we still managed two goals suggests that it is worth the trade-off. Finally, Kieran Gibbs returned yesterday and his pace alongside Jenkinson – who continued his impressive form - no doubt also improved our defensive display, as we saw them able to provide cover when defensive line pushed up.
Wilshere was missed, Don’t worry about Walcott
A major issue was the midfield yesterday, too often the play kept breaking down and as a result we were unable to build any kind of momentum. This is where Wilshere normally enters the play, driving the midfield forward. This is a minor complaint; if Rosicky’s game had been better this would have gone unnoticed. This brings me to my second point - the criticism that Walcott is receiving for fading away in the second half is unwarranted. Yes, Walcott was quiet, yes, I wish he could get stuck in properly, but unfortunately that is the type of player that he is. His role is to try to break the offside trap and get behind the defence, to do this he has to generally be near or at the defensive line. Walcott’s game generally relies on his supply, and yesterday it was lacking. Wenger realised this, and as a result took him off for the slightly slower, but a lot stronger Oxlade-chamberlain who able to get stuck in further down the pitch.
Best thing for the league
Exclusively thinking about the premier league, I don’t think a better result could have been possible. The players are buoyed by a great result but don’t have the distraction of more CL football. That said, I do think it is a signal of our fall that I didn’t consider CL success to be on the cards from the get-go. It should be recognised though, that our match this weekend against Swansea will be a complete different game. Being the bigger side will prevent us from being able to take the same approach to the game. Anyway, we’ll see when it comes.
The memory of when we shook Munich will stay with me for a while. Let’s see if it can stay with our lads too.