Wenger humiliated as Arsenal experience shameful deja vu
Hopes of a miracle evaporate as Laurent Koscielny is sent off and Bayern Munich run riot at the Emirates
Arsenal 1 Bayern Munich 5 [Arsenal lose 10-2 on aggregate]
It was the worst sort of deja vu for Arsenal fans on Tuesday evening as their side was once more humiliated by Bayern Munich. In what now feels like an annual ritual, the Germans made a mockery of Arsenal's pretensions to be a top European club, thrashing their hosts by the same margin as they did when the two sides met in Munich last month.
It was the third time in five years that Bayern have dumped Arsenal out of the Champions League but Tuesday's destruction felt different. It was expected. Even the most ardent Arsenal fan arrived at the Emirates knowing deep down that their side simply isn't good enough these days to defeat a team like Bayern.
For the first 45 minutes the fans were at least allowed to dream of a faraway miracle as Arsenal threw everything at their visitors, playing with a purpose rarely seen this season. But despite Theo Walcott's goal on 20 minutes the Germans didn't panic as they soaked up the pressure. True, they were fortunate not to concede a penalty when Xabi Alonso made contact with Walcott in the area, but for all the huffing and puffing of their hosts, Bayern went down the tunnel at the break like a boxer returning to his corner after a comfortable round in which his opponent had landed just one punch despite all his efforts.
The game, and possibly Arsenal's future, changed eight minutes into the second half when Laurent Koscielny was sent off for bringing down Robert Lewandowski inside the area.
Referee Anastasios Sidiropoulos initially showed the French defender a yellow card, but seconds later changed his mind and brandished a red. Lewandowski duly despatched the spot kick to kill off the game and crack the resolve of the north London side.
Harsh as Koscielny's dismissal may have been, there was no excuse for what followed as the Gunners gave away four goals in 17 shameful minutes. Arjen Robben sparked the mayhem midway through the second half, dispossessing Alexis Sanchez - who had a poor night - and firing past David Ospina, and Douglas Costa made it 3-1 ten minutes later with a fine individual effort.
Arturo Vidal got goals four and five in the final ten minutes, by which time the ship was sinking fast and thousands of Arsenal fans had already abandoned their seats, sick at what they had witnessed.
The 10-2 aggregate defeat is the worst inflicted on an English side in the Champions League, and it was the biggest loss Arsenal have suffered at home since they were thrashed 5-0 by Chelsea in the league cup in 1998.
Before Tuesday's match around 200 Arsenal fans protested outside the stadium, notes Sky Sports, demanding that Arsene Wenger leave when his contract expires at the end of the season. The number of protestors will surely rise in the coming weeks as the Gunners contemplate another season without either the league title or a good run in the Champions League.
As for the manager, he continued his impersonation of a man in complete denial, telling reporters after the humiliation: "I still must say my team has produced a huge effort tonight and played very well."
If losing 5-1 constitutes a good effort in the eyes of the Frenchman one wonders what it will need to make him condemn his players. Perhaps losing to non-league Lincoln in the FA Cup quarter-final?
Describing some of the officiating as "irresponsible" and "scandalous", Wenger said the result left him "very angry and very frustrated." At least he knows how the fans paying the highest ticket prices in Europe feel.
Arsenal face mission impossible as storm clouds gather
Arsenal will embark on a mission impossible tonight when they take on Bayern Munich in the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie, trailing 5-1 from the first leg.
Since that fateful day in Munich last month, the Gunners have faced more problems, with divided fans, unconvincing performances, rumours of mutiny from Alexis Sanchez and still no clarity over the future of their manager Arsene Wenger.
Some fans will stage a protest ahead of the match, reports James Olley of the London Evening Standard. "The climate is foreboding, even before considering the opposition," he warns.
"Arsenal require a show of unity. These are players who have been shielded from criticism by a manager who retains the most steadfast belief in them, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. They need to repay him.
"The difficulty for Wenger is that little comfort can be drawn from another near-miss. A home win insufficient to progress could easily constitute another glorious failure which only underlines a major flaw Wenger has been unable to rectify: delivering in the big games under maximum pressure."
Given the situation they are in ahead of the game, "Arsenal cannot focus on much beyond just picking themselves up, dusting themselves down and trying to feel a bit better about themselves," says Amy Lawrence of The Guardian.
But their predicament is also the cause of their plight, argues Lawrence who suggests that the Gunners are caught in a vicious circle.
Not being ready for the fight "is a strong accusation" to level at Champions League regulars and Premier League challengers. "It explains why someone as obsessively competitive as Sanchez would become frustrated, but it is also worth trying to understand why so many of the Arsenal team have a tendency to play within themselves when the pressure constricts... it seems that the environment and expectations make it difficult for the team to play in a relaxed way."
The Sanchez situation is not helping, argues John Cross in the Daily Mirror. "Sanchez's histrionics tend to mask bad performances and people say it shows his passion, how much he cares and that he is a winner," he says. "Well, winners don't behave like that. They don't throw strops on the pitch, bawl out team mates and behave badly in training."