Game Of My Life #12: March Sadness, October Gladness
What I might do is just go back through all the games we’ve played and pick out all the good moments from an Arsenal perspective.
…okay I just looked at the history and that’s not going to work. I’ve got a word count to meet here. I think I’ll just have to settle for ranking our recent encounters, starting with the most painful, and concluding with the one that hurts me the least.
I was actually thinking about choosing the recent 7-2 victory against Tottenham, because it’s always hilarious to watch your rivals get pummelled. But then again, it was pretty painful to see Serge Gnabry, who had been at Arsenal from the age of 16 before leaving five years later, look so impressive in another team’s colours. We always knew he was talented: he played a role in the 2013/14 season, not looking out of place alongside Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla, and Aaron Ramsey and contributing a lot on the right wing when called upon. He was always our most talented young player, but a combination of injuries and poor loan moves meant it didn’t quite work out for him at Arsenal. We sold him because he only had a year left on his contract, but to get only £5 million for a player clearly so talented, and now to see him thriving, is quite difficult to take. Another one who got away.
So, without further ado, here is my ranking of Arsenal-Bayern games ranked from most to least painful.
This one is so painful that I can barely remember it. I think the part of my brain that controls memory decided not to save any recollection of this match to spare me the pain. Thanks, brain. Unfortunately because of this damned article I’ve got to go there. It’s okay, I spoke to my therapist and he said it’s alright. Apparently I’m “so used to football-related pain that I physically cannot be hurt by it anymore”. Cool.
Still, this one is the most painful because not only was it the third 5-1 loss that Bayern had inflicted upon Arsenal in a row, but it was also the last time we played in the Champions League. Well done, Bayern, you gave us such a beating that we decided we simply didn’t want to play in the Champions League anymore. Yes, that’s it, it’s not because we “failed” to qualify by missing out on the top four in the Premier League for the last three seasons. We were actually opting out by choice. Big difference. Call us conscientious objectors maybe.
Okay, that’s not exactly 100% true, but it wouldn’t be particularly surprising, because this second leg condemned us to a 10-2 aggregate defeat. It was so bad that Alexis Sanchez was spotted laughing on the bench next to Petr Cech. Sometimes it really is so bad that if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. We were even winning at half-time!
I don’t remember this very well but it seems that Laurent Koscielny got sent off 10 minutes into the second half, giving Bayern a penalty in the process. Apparently it was a contested decision so I suppose I’ll have to watch the video – I hate you all for putting me through this.
Right, so he was given a yellow card initially before the referee changed his mind and gave him a red. This was before VAR, remember, so this was quite a strange decision. It doesn’t quite seem fair to send a player off and give a penalty, but the decision certainly ruined the game from a neutral perspective. From my perspective it simply meant the game was deleted from memory. Lewandowski converted the penalty, with Robben, Costa, and Vidal (twice) kicking Arsenal while they were down. Ouch.
From a personal point of view, I probably remember this game even less fondly because I had just arrived that day in Valencia to start a three-month placement teaching English, having left the wonderful school where I had been teaching in Hamburg for the previous six months. I arrived with my Spanish a bit rusty, I didn’t quite have my bearings, and I knew exactly nobody in the whole city. It was my first night in the city and I ended up watching on my laptop alone in my new room. Watching Arsenal was supposed to be a bit of familiarity, a ritual of sorts that I could rely on to give myself a bit of joy in those hard times – it didn’t quite work out like that on this occasion. Thanks Bayern, you big bullies.
It’s the hope that kills you. After Arjen Robben did his thing in the 11th minute, cutting in and curling it into the top corner, we got a penalty after half an hour. Sanchez missed it but he eventually put in the rebound, and we were on level terms. Away goal! Just hold on guys, we can get a good result out of this…
Alright maybe not. Laurent Koscielny went off and things fell to pieces in the second half – I’m sensing a theme here, although this time it was because of injury. Two goals in quick succession from Lewandowski and Thiago turned things in Bayern’s favour, before another from Thiago and Müller made it 5-1. The plan was always to keep things close in the first leg, hopefully not lose by too many before hopefully getting a win at home. This was not the plan. To top things off, Mesut Özil, someone I had always felt very protective of, took a lot of criticism for his efforts, although it seemed like he had been playing with a hamstring injury.
I do at least have positive memories of this game because of the company I spent it in: Jolle, who I had been translating for on Miasanrot for a couple of years, invited me to her flat in Hamburg to watch the match, and was an excellent host. We spoke both in German and English, and I took away some excellent bits of vocabulary: I learned “da, wo die Eule schläft” (the postage stamp, probably because that’s where Robben placed his goal), “nicht so vorschnell” (don’t speak too soon, maybe related to us getting a penalty), and “Schnurres” (tache, although I don’t remember who was sporting a moustache on the pitch). I also picked up “sichi”, although I have no idea what the context for that was. I learned more that night than in plenty of classes at college and at uni. So those fond memories make this one slightly less painful than the second leg.
Another 5-1?! Seriously?! This is just too repetitive. Somebody needs to have a word with whoever is writing these scripts, we need a bit of variation here. Maybe throw in a 4-1 or even a 4-2 for a change, that would be nice. You could say this one was more painful because it was the first 5-1 of the three; you could also say the others hurt more because each defeat, as Arsene Wenger said, is “like a scar on your heart”.
Two things speak in favour of this game, however: firstly, we scored the best goal of the game, being Olivier Giroud’s fantastic bicycle kick, and everybody knows that the most important thing is to score the best goal, and only losers focus on the final score; secondly, this was at least a group stage match, so we didn’t have to worry too much about overturning a large defeat in the second leg. And it wouldn’t be a 5-1 without Laurent Koscielny’s absence hurting Arsenal: here he had to drop out of the starting eleven because of injury just two hours before kick-off. I probably wouldn’t want to be involved in this kind of game either as an Arsenal player.
Ah this one was painful. Mainly because it could have been so different: not only did we have a player sent off, which I’ll get to in a moment, but we had the opportunity to go 1-0 up early on when Mesut Özil won a penalty. He’d been struggling in the first winter of his Arsenal career but he managed to get past Boateng with a lovely chop inside before being fouled by the defender. In the absence of Mikel Arteta, our regular penalty taker, Giroud would normally have taken it, but with the French striker on the bench it was Özil who stepped up.
How many times have we seen players stroke a penalty down the middle, with the goalkeeper diving either side and not being able to save it? This was what Özil attempted, but unfortunately Manuel Neuer, his old friend from his days as a youngster at Schalke, knew him too well. Neuer stood firm and parried the weak penalty, and it stayed 0-0. That could have been the goal to reignite Özil’s debut season, and it would have put us in a good position. Sadly the miss meant that the criticism around Özil increased even more, and the game went away from us.
Also contributing to that was another red card: this time the guilty party was Wojciech Szczesny, who brought Arjen Robben down in the box. Alaba missed the penalty, at least, and the moment was made better by Szczesny’s reaction to his red card: as he walked down the tunnel he made the ‘wanker’ gesture towards the fourth official. You could hardly pick a moment to sum up Wojciech Szczesny’s time at Arsenal any better. In his defence, he was just trying to share an integral part of British culture with an international audience: the age-old British tradition of calling somebody a wanker. Sensational.
Basically the same as the above except no painful penalty miss, no red card (meaning no wanker gesture), and we scored. Hooray.
Almost no video exists of this game. I count that as a win.
We didn’t lose! What a night! We scored without provoking four goals in reply! All I remember about this game was that Podolski literally shoved Lahm to the ground when he was nowhere near the ball, and the referee somehow let Podolski carry on and smash it past Neuer. According to the BBC match report, we only had six substitutes because our seventh, Ryo Miyaichi, was ineligible and we only realised too late. This football club never disappoints. So professional, so thorough.
A win! An actual win! Not even on a technicality, we actually were the winners of this football match! …
Yeah, there’s a ‘but’ coming. This was the second leg after we lost 3-1 away, and we needed more than just a 1-0 win. Henry scored the goal after 65 minutes, a wonderful goal which *does* exist on video and I *am* going to link to it. Look at the touch, the immediate snap finish with his weaker foot without giving the goalkeeper a second. Listen to the crowd roar, and the commentary: “Henry, good conTROL, YES!” I’m a big believer that the commentary on a goal can elevate it, can make it better than it would have been on its own, and I’ve always enjoyed this one. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t enough for us to go through. I remember walking forlornly to the bus stop the next day thinking how close we were: we just needed one more to go through. And it’s such a shame that that brilliant Arsenal team never won the Champions League. This was just a year after we won the Premier League without losing a game, and that season Chelsea had dumped us out of the Champions League at Highbury in the quarter-finals on away goals. This was a second painful Champions League exit at Highbury in as many years.
Ah, a different kind of pain. Nice to mix things up I suppose. Our history with Bayern just seems to be the club finding different, more creative ways to make us suffer. Here we were 2-0 up before Bayern came back to 2-2, and given that we were at home you have to see that as two points dropped. We scored within three minutes, a lovely Henry goal resulting from a beautiful link-up with Kanu, and the provider turned scorer in the second half. Kanu’s goal saw an instant response from Bayern, with Tarnat making it 2-1, and Mehmet Scholl curled in a brilliant free-kick just after the hour mark to bring Bayern level. Still, I was only three years old so I probably would have been crying even if we’d won. Kanu was my first favourite player, he was so stylish and skilful, so I was probably happy about that. For a taste of his genius, check out this goal against Deportivo la Coruña where he just waits and waits and does the goalkeeper in a game of chicken. He had a habit of doing the unexpected, and as an Arsenal player scoring against Bayern Munich is about as unexpected as you can get.
Okay we lost, but we still went through to the knock-out stages at the end of the game so this one doesn’t hurt. Also I just watched the goal and I reckon Elber would have been given offside in the VAR era, so let’s say that was a draw, that’s fair. A draw away at Bayern, that’s really respectable in fairness. Feels like a win really. Yeah let’s call this a win.
What a result! A 2-0 win at the Allianz! Okay, it wasn’t enough to go through in the end, and we crashed out on away goals, which would become a theme for Arsenal in the Champions League round of 16, but again, these are mere details. In fact, glorious failure sums up Arsenal after their move from Highbury quite nicely. This game was a good way to restore some pride and to show that we were still a strong side after a tricky first season since Robin van Persie’s departure.
In fact, this game served as a turning point in our season: Mr Wenger dropped Thomas Vermaelen and Wojciech Szczesny, partnering Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in defence, and that centre-back duo is right up there with the best in our recent history. It was the solid foundation on which we built a good end to the season, and the up-turn in form produced by this confident performance saw us clinch Champions League qualification on the last day of the season. Back for more humiliation/glorious failure. Get in there. An early goal from Giroud, who scored quite a few against Bayern, and a late one from Koscielny, who always played a significant role in these ties, though usually more through his absence than his presence, gave us a respectable win to take home to London. Also look at that lovely purple and blue kit. That’s worth a third away goal alone isn’t it? Isn’t it?
And at long last here we have it, my favourite game in the history of Arsenal-Bayern head-to-heads. And it’s a victory for Arsenal, with no asterisks, no buts, no qualifications. In fact, the only qualification resulting from this game was our own qualification for the knock-out stages, which had seemed unlikely before the match. We’d lost away to Dinamo Zagreb and at home to Olympiakos, and had to beat Bayern at home to have any chance of going through. It didn’t look promising: though both teams had more or less full strength squads to choose from, any visit from a Pep Guardiola team is pretty daunting. To make things worse, Bayern had been unbeaten in the league and in Europe that season before arriving at the Emirates. But we were clearly more in need of a victory than our opponents were.
Manuel Neuer, after making a frankly ridiculous save from a Theo Walcott header, somehow missed a looping Cazorla free-kick, and Giroud was there to take advantage. It might have even gone in off his hand, but he didn’t care, and we were ahead with just over ten minutes to go. Then in the dying seconds, Hector Bellerin, who had been given a torrid time by Douglas Costa in the first half, came flying out of nowhere (quite literally on television, since he’s not even in the frame at first) to nick the ball off the winger’s toes, burn past the nearest challenging defender, and cross to an unmarked Özil at the back post. He didn’t connect perfectly with it, and Neuer came flying across to claw the ball out (and Chamberlain missed the rebound horribly) but the whistle came regardless. In the stands we weren’t quite sure whether the goal had been given or whether the players were celebrating full-time and a crucial victory, but the goal had indeed been given. It would have been a more satisfying release, a more cathartic moment if Özil had smashed the ball into the back of the net, leaving us in no doubt as to whether it was a goal or not, but beggars can’t be choosers. It was a goal to seal an important win, and a goal to banish Özil’s demons a little bit, beating Neuer – just – two years after his old friend had stopped his penalty at the other end.
We went on to beat Zagreb at home before travelling to Olympiakos needing to win by three goals, and thanks to a hat-trick from a godly Olivier Giroud we did it, and we qualified. Finally: an Arsenal-Bayern tie that ends well from an Arsenal perspective, as well as a Bayern perspective. And now we couldn’t play Bayern in the knock-out round for once, because we’d already played them in the groups! Nothing was going to stop us now!
Except Barcelona, the other team that always broke our hearts in the knock-out stages. Now please don’t make me write an article about that. I don’t think my poor heart could take it.