Arsenal beat Bayern Munich: was it luck or determination?
The headlines proclaim a new era, but the reaction would have been very different if Manuel Neuer had not had a rush of blood
A crass mistake by the world's best goalkeeper was all it took to turn Arsenal from European also-rans to a versatile team with a core of steel capable of fighting for honours on several fronts.
Arsenal were clinging on desperately against Bayern Munich at the Emirates when Santi Cazorla pumped a 77th minute free kick into the box and Manuel Neuer inexplicably charged from his line and missed the ball, allowing substitute Olivier Giroud to bundle the ball home and gift the Gunners a vital victory.
In the end the 2-0 win against Bayern Munich was about as un-Arsenal as it comes, and manager Arsene Wenger even admitted that his side resorted to long-ball football during a match in which they had just 30 per cent of the possession, yet scored twice and did not concede.
It was "a night of redemption and role reversal on a cinematic scale", says Barney Ronay of The Guardian. Arsenal defended deep and made 278 passes, compared to 765 by Bayern, and completed just 75 per cent of them, as opposed to the 91 per cent German completion rate.
Mesut Ozil, described by Ronay as Arsenal's "frail alien princeling", imposed himself on the game for once, and even scored the decisive second goal in stoppage time.
At the back there was an even stranger thing to behold says Matt Hughes in The Times. "Petr Cech made four excellent saves and gave Arsenal's defence a sense of assurance they have lacked for over a decade," he marvels.
"It has taken a while, but Arsenal may finally have learnt to appreciate the joy of winning ugly," he adds. "Olivier Giroud's scrappy, handled goal was celebrated with as much gusto as any Alexis Sanchez masterpiece... [and] this famous victory will be remembered as a rare night when Arsene Wenger eschewed aesthetics."
It was certainly an unusual performance that was more in keeping with the George Graham than Wenger era. But what it means is that Arsenal "are no longer one-dimensional," explains the Daily Telegraph.
"Wins this year at Old Trafford, the Etihad Stadium and now at home to Bayern Munich – arguably the best team in the world – show how Arsenal have evolved... Being able to win in different ways is the best sign possible that Arsenal are again ready to challenge for the Premier League title."
Of course the result is everything, but it is hard not to wonder where the focus would have been had Bayern had luck on their side.
First of all Aaron Ramsey limped off with yet another muscle injury. "Arsenal claim to have made progress on this issue but, in the case of Ramsey, something has again gone wrong," warns the Telegraph, which also notes that Xavi Alonso once again made a mockery of Wenger's decision not to sign him in 2009.
Hector Bellerin was embarrassed in the first half by Douglas Costa, although his performance in the second period was much improved and his speed set up the second goal. Up front, the Times notes that once again "Walcott's finishing did not match his approach play as he twice produced poor shots, although his best chance was thwarted by one of the saves of the season from Neuer".
But overall there was a feeling that the result "could have a transformative effect on their season," says the paper. "Arsenal have experienced too many false dawns in recent years to get carried away by one win, but the manner of this victory felt different."
The proof of the pudding will come later in the season.