In the wake of the win over Bayern Munich in midweek, there have been a litany of articles penned, blogs written, podcasts recorded and vines edited to show the lengths to which Arsenal had to go to in order to get the victory needed to keep their Champions League hopes alive.
Some praised the defending, others highlighted Petr Cech’s performance, others still looked at how Hector Bellerin is the new Ashley Cole, while a few others focused on our counter-attacking skills.
All of them are valid points, but they all have one thing in common; they’re done with the result factored into the analysis, which can be a bit misleading.
Winning a game can often lead to us sweeping a lot of crucial details about a game under the carpet, because they’re not seen as being influential to the result. But these events are often more important in determining how well a team played than the events that led to a goal or two being scored, and against Bayern Munich, we saw a prime example of this.
After watching the game again, it was amazing to see how little we had of the ball for the first 30 minutes of the game. Because we won, it’s being seen as performing great defensively and as a tactical masterstroke to let Bayern have so much of the ball, but when you watch Bayern press better than us, pass better than us and create better chances than us for half an hour, it’s hard to see how we ‘outplayed’ them.
Yes, we did get back into the game and fashion a couple of good opportunities for ourselves, especially one for Theo Walcott who must still be wondering how Manuel Neuer saved his header. But these were caused not by us putting pressure on Bayern, but by caa couple of misplaced passes by Xabi Alonso. Our tactics weren’t putting Bayern in trouble, they were allowing them possession in the hopes that they’d screw up.
The same applies to Petr Cech.
He was great on Tuesday. Every cross that came in was dealt with commandingly, and every shot either stuck to his gloves like they were covered in superglue, or got punched into row F as if he was doing an impression of Conor McGregor. It was efficient, world-class goalkeeping. But would we still be so proud of the way we set up to counter-attack if Robert Lewandowski, in hugely uncharacteristic fashion, didn’t mess up two fantastic chances at the start and end of the game? No.
There are many ways in which Arsenal didn’t play well on Tuesday.
Douglas Costa turned Bellerin into a human weeble for most of the first half, such was the way he managed to repeatedly dribble past the young Spaniard. Alexis Sanchez was consistently bottled up when in the possession and often ran into dead-ends. Santi Cazorla gave away possession multiple times in the hopes of a quick counter, even though Bayern’s defenders were all in position to defend such a pass. Francis Coquelin was consistently muscled off the ball by Thiago.
Even the way Arsenal scored was more to do with how Bayern performed than how Arsenal did. It was a very Arsenal-esque goal, not because how it was scored but in the manner that it was conceded.
How many times have we seen Arsenal dominate a game at the Emirates, only for the opposition to score an incredibly lucky goal thanks to an superb cock-up that could never have been predicted before hand? Well it happened again on Tuesday, only this time Arsenal were the beneficiaries of such a gift.
It’s very hard to claim that we deserved to win a game when the goal that put us ahead came from a horrendous miscue by the best goalkeeper in the world. If the plan to win the game hinged on the chance that Manuel Neuer would do his best Manuel Almunia impression during a routine attempt to catch a ball, then it’s not a very good one, even if it did work out.
That’s why it’s imperative not to draw any lasting conclusions from this game.
Arsenal were outplayed, but won. Yes, it is a skill to get a result out of a game in which you’re not playing well in, but this wasn’t a game in that we played badly in. Cech was superb, Bellerin was almost unplayable in the second half, Mesut Ozil was always a threat when we managed to keep possession and Theo Walcott never stopped running, which meant Olivier Giroud was able to boss around a very tired Bayern back-line for the last twenty minutes.
We cannot allow ourselves to fall into the trap of thinking that if we play at the same standard that we did against Bayern, then we’ll be in contention for silverware. For us to add something to the trophy cabinet this season, the first 20 minutes against Manchester United should still be what we should aspire for.
There will be occasions in which we don’t meet that level, and might need a bit of luck to get a result, and the Bayern result was one of those occasions.
As long as we treat it as such, and not get carried away with simply the result, then Arsenal are set up to give our rivals a lot of trouble this year.
Winning, by itself, means nothing.