I said last night as I was watching the game that we had three objectives for the first half. Get through the first 45 without conceding had to be the most important. We had a hill to climb, nothing could be worse than that becoming a mountain. Then we needed to match them all over the pitch. Hassle and harry and close down space when they had the ball, forcing them to punt it up-field rather than build, a bit like teams do against us. Then and only once those criteria were met should we hope for the third. Plant the seed of doubt in their minds by capping off a free flowing attack with an unstoppable shot and half the deficit.
I know it would’ve been super to have gone it at half time three goals to the good but this is an exceptionally good Bayern side and that would be a big ask even for a squad as talented as ours. While we’re at it, lets have a word for that squad. Isn’t it rather satisfying to have somebody as utterly peerless as Tomáš Rosický to step in when one of our promising youth team graduates gets injured just before a match? Doesn’t it make you feel just a little smug to have another Polish international keeper waiting in the wings in case the other one has to miss a game? No Lukas Podolski on the left wing? No problem, we have Santi Cazorla. Best right back in the premiership for a very long time out injured? Step up corporal Jenks. How the manager has assembled this incredible group on such a (relatively) limited budget defies belief. He truly is an extraordinary man.
The conditions were atrocious last night with a playing surface like a polished ice rink but that didn’t prevent Corporal Jenks keeping pace with Robben whilst running backwards then perfectly timing his tackle before skipping around Muller and away up the pitch in what for me, as an ex defender, was the highlight of the half. I know Fab showed some great decision making and safe hands and the goal obviously was quite important but that was as good an example of the defenders art as you’ll see.
Ten minutes into the second half and I thought Giroud was going to get that crazy screamer he’s been promising me when he volleyed from midway inside their half but it went over and Arsene reacted just as he did against Sunderland. One day Olivier, one day. I thought we continued to close them well and forced mistakes and fouls. Theo was clearly onside and clear through but was flagged off side for reasons known only to the linesman and his bookmaker. Sure Bayern had a few chances but this isn’t a Bayern blog so who gives a damn? Santi took a free kick just outside of their area and was outraged when denied by an apparent hand ball in the wall and the game resumed the pattern of the first half, both sides probing and inept officials making surreal uneven decisions.
The game burst into life on 67 minutes when Fabianski pulled off a fine point blank save from Bayern’s balding Dutchman and a flurry of shots brought out the best in our defence. With time running out we pressed further and further up field and began to look a little stretched. Arsene rolled the 70 minute dice and the seemingly tireless Ramsay and Walcott were replaced by the Ox and Gervinho. Robben was showing his traditional greed near the goal which was all the better for us but whenever we tried to attack we seemed to be held back by accidental hand balls or passes an inch off their target and on one occasion the linesman lost his contact lens and denied us a corner.
Gervihno seemed to have done enough with a delicate pirouette and toe poke but the ball rolled agonisingly past the post. Then Robben managed to get Per booked by running into him as our giant German turned away but by this time the drunken refereeing had ceased to surprise anybody. Another brilliant stop from the excellent Fabianski and we entered the final ten minutes with the second crucial goal still eluding us.
Five minutes to go. A corner from the right. Santi takes it. Kosser stays low. Gets there first. Two nil. Game on.
But there was to be no famous third goal and you don’t need me to tell you what happened next. Just three minutes of injury time after all those subs and stoppages and with the connivance of the officials aiding Bayern in their time wasting, we went out on a technicality.
I am nothing but proud of the amazing effort and performance. Clean sheet, away to one of the best teams in Europe and clear two nil victors on the night. Sad to be out of the tournament but not in any way disheartened. We are all a little sick to have suffered yet again at the hands of an inept referee on such an important occasion but we can be proud of the fans who travelled and the players who pulled on the shirt and gave it their all.