Number 11: “Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal dominate Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich.”
Match: Arsenal 2 – 0 Bayern Munich | Date: 20th October 2015 | Competition: Champions League Group Stage
This football match is, without a doubt, the most underrated Arsenal game of the decade.
On this day in 2015, a tactical masterclass from Arsene Wenger led Arsenal to a memorable victory over Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich.
There were many talking points heading into this crucial tie at the Emirates Stadium.
For Arsenal, this was always going to be a make or break fixture. The Gunners had lost their opening two matches in the Champions League and a third consecutive defeat would have most likely prevented them from reaching the knockout stages. Meanwhile, for Bayern Munich, all eyes were on Guardiola’s team to see if they could continue their winning ways. Before their trip to north London, the German club had won every single game so far in the season.
On the night, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger named an unchanged side from the team that beat Watford 3-0 at the weekend. However, their game plan was significantly different in comparison. Rather than try to retain possession and play in Bayern’s half, Arsenal instead opted to sit back and allowed the visitors to a have a majority of the ball.
Meanwhile, to try and exploit the Gunners’ backline, Guardiola selected a front three of Robert Lewandowski down the middle with Douglas Costa and Thomas Muller occupying the flanks.
But, it was the tactical change from Wenger that nearly produced instant results. Just before the seventh minute, a fantastic passing combination, starting from the Arsenal defence, nearly resulted in their first goal of the game. After receiving the ball from a quick pass, Alexis Sanchez drove forward with the ball and played it into space to Mesut Ozil. But, the German midfielder’s shot was just saved by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
With Arsenal sitting back for most of the game, they invited too much pressure from Bayern at times and on another day it could’ve been costly. In the eleventh minute, the visitors nearly scored. As part of a beautiful sequence, Xabi Alonso played a perfect ball to Thiago into space and the midfielder linked well Thomas Muller to get into a goalscoring position. But, his effort was denied by Petr Cech.
For a majority of the first half, Bayern Munich was in complete control of the game. They continued to find space between Arsenal’s defence and midfield and they also got a few good chances at goal. The only thing missing from their performance was that all-important first goal but they struggled to beat Petr Cech between the posts – who easily had his best performance in an Arsenal shirt on the night.
After the thirty-minute mark, Arsenal had their best chance of the half. A beautiful cross from Nacho Monreal found Theo Walcott freely in the Bayern Munich box. Despite heading the ball well, Manuel Neuer’s fantastic reflexes prevented the ball from going in the back of the net. To this day, I’m unsure how the goalkeeper managed to save Walcott’s effort, it’s one of the greatest saves I’ve ever seen.
While they failed to score, this play gave Arsenal the confidence they needed to grow into the game. For the remainder of the first half, the match was more of an even affair with both sides coming close to scoring.
In the early stages of the second half, Bayern took full control of the game. With Arsenal sticking to their game plan, the visitors continued to have freedom with the ball and came close to opening the scoring a few times. Lewandowski’s wonderful strike in the 55th minute nearly broke the deadlock and he had another solid chance minutes later. Also, Muller delivered a few good crosses from the right but failed to make an accurate chance. Meanwhile, off the ball, Bayern’s pressing game gave Arsenal all sorts of problems and they struggled to deal with it for most of the second half.
In the 75th minute, Bayern had arguably their best chance of the game. After winning the ball in midfield, a nice pass from Muller to Costa allowed the winger to control the ball until he could pick the right pass into space to Lewandowski. But, the forward’s strike was deflected thanks to a last-ditch tackle from Koscielny.
However, just before Lewandowski’s chance, Wenger made his second substitution after he brought on Olivier Giroud for Walcott. It’s a switch that completely changed the state of this game.
In the brilliant words of Ian Darke: “Giroud, for Arsenal! Have they stolen it now? Have they found a lifeline? Talk about a super-sub.”
It’s a goal that surprised Arsenal fans all over the world and the celebrations inside the stadium were thunderous. Santi Cazorla’s delivery into the box was exceptional and Giroud did well to knock the ball past Neuer, even though the goal should have been disallowed.
With Arsenal leading, Bayern did everything to try and get back into the game. However, they just did not have enough in them towards the end to produce a decisive goal scoring opportunity. In the 84th minute, the hosts nearly cemented their victory following a Giroud header but the Frenchman’s effort was met by the hands of Neuer.
In the 94th minute, Arsenal put the game to bed and scored a second goal.
Despite running around the entire night, Hector Bellerin somehow found the energy to break up Bayern’s play, burst past Alonso down the right flank, and play the ball across the box for Ozil to tap the ball home. Initially, there was some confusion as it looked like Neuer had produced an even better save than his one earlier in the game. But, the officials made the right call and Arsenal won the game 2-0.
It’s nights like this you always remember.
My Overall Thoughts:
In my opinion, this is the most underrated Arsenal game of the decade.
I know some people will probably be surprised that I chose this game for my list but you couldn’t ask for a better performance from Arsenal. The tactics from Arsene Wenger were exceptional and the players fought for the club every single second. The likes of Petr Cech and Nacho Monreal arguably had their best performances in an Arsenal shirt and others like Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil were integral to the team’s gameplan.
Emotions ran high for the entire night and the atmosphere was arguably the greatest the Emirates Stadium has ever seen. From the first minute to the 94th minute, the fans kept chanting as much as they could and it was evident it benefitted the team when watching the game back. I simply can’t fault this game in any way.
But, at the same time, I’ll admit I’m biased towards this game. I was there at the Emirates for my 17th birthday and it’s the football match that I always look back on. From the very long walk to the stadium to losing my voice the following day, there are so many details that I can recall. With the exception of the 2014 FA Cup Final, this is probably the game of football that I’ve watched most.
I know it’s a bit of a cliche statement, and I’ve used it often, but it’s games like this that highlight my love for football. Celebrating goals with complete strangers can always be a memorable experience and I still remember how I felt as Giroud and Ozil scored their goals.
The only real downside is that I was sitting near the front of the Clock End and didn’t get a good view of either goal. Ozil’s goal, in particular, confused a lot of people and I remember some people shouting that Giroud had scored instead. But, when the announcement was made about the actual goalscorer, I remember seeing so many people jumping around and hugging one another.
It’s nights like these that you always remember and I hope Arsenal return to these nights very soon.
You simply can’t beat the Champions League.
As part of this series, I also wanted to learn about different thoughts and feelings that other fans had to this game. While I’ve previously discussed my love for this fixture and why it was included in my “Matches of the Decade” series, I also think it’s beneficial to learn and hear the stories from people that have a deeper connection to the game in question.
With that being said, I was fortunate enough to talk to two people about their experiences with this game and this is what they had to say:
Adrian Clarke – ex-Arsenal footballer and current sports journalist:
“It was a night when Arsenal needed to show courage and character to keep their Champions League hopes alive for the season – and as a collective, they delivered one of those memorable, inspirational European nights.”
“Arsene Wenger’s tactics were very clear. He was prepared to sacrifice the possession game he loved so much, allowing Bayern Munich 73% of possession. By selecting Theo Walcott as the main striker he signalled his intention that Arsenal would sit deep with a low block and play on the break, and it was a shape that worked very well on the night.”
“This was an outstanding Bayern side, managed by Pep Guardiola. At the time I think they were the world’s best. Douglas Costa was amazing down the left, Lewandowski was terrifying, Alonso was sublime – but the Gunners worked very, very hard to keep their shape and at no stage did they buckle. They were reliant on Petr Cech, who possibly had his best ever Arsenal performance – his second-half save from Lewandowski in a 1v1 was fabulous. But even so, they still deserved the win.”
“On the night, despite completing 278 passes to the Germans’ 765, Wenger’s men had two more shots on target with eight. Every time they broke away they posed a real threat. Wenger timed his substitution well. Walcott had scared Boateng all night with his pace, but his race was run. Bringing on super-sub Giroud was the right move, and it helped them score the breakthrough opening goal.”
“The second goal was a joyous moment for Bellerin. He’d had a tough night looking after Costa but his interception and barnstorming run down the right to set up Ozil was brilliant. It is a moment that announced his breakthrough as a first-team regular. I was co-commentating at the time and thought Ozil’s shot was cleared off the line, so we were in a state of confusion for a few seconds. But, the noise when everyone realised the ball had crossed the line was phenomenal.”
“A great Emirates Stadium moment! For me, this was a great night for Wenger, and for the spirit of the team at that time. They raised their game when it mattered most. Bayern was the better team and had almost all the territory but the Gunners fought like tigers for each other.”
“It was one of those Champions League nights you don’t forget.”
Patrick Timmons – Arsenal fan
“Spirits were high as the game approached as we were coming in off the back of back-to-back 3-0 victories. However, everyone was aware that this game would be different. Facing a trip to Vicarage Road is one thing, going toe-to-toe with one of the best sides in Europe is another.”
“The players at Bayern Munich’s disposal was incredible, and Pep implemented his style with ease in Germany. Lewandowski was largely considered the best striker in the world at the time. To make matters worse, we were in dire need of a win. Our opening two Champions League fixtures had ended in defeat, so it was do or die. A must-win against arguably the best side in Europe at the time. What could possibly go wrong?”
“What followed was one of the most memorable nights in Arsenal’s recent history. Not only did we claim a 2-0 win, we did it while playing football the right way. The Arsenal way. It wasn’t a smash and grab. It was a calculated approach which paid off. Every player was immense. From Koscielny and Mertesacker silencing Lewandowski to Giroud opening the goalscoring in controversial fashion. Every player involved played their part and did the badge and the fans proud.”
“It’s performances like this which make me proud to support this wonderful football club.”
Thumbnail image captured by: ByJohnSmith