Arsene Wenger’s decision to hand 21-year-old Yaya Sanogo a place in the starting lineup was the main talking point when the team-sheets came out. Prior to kick-off, Sanogo had only played 127 minutes for the Gunners, with this being his second start for the club. Wenger’s reluctance to sign a striker in January left many Arsenal fans frustrated, and with Olivier Giroud requiring rest, Sanogo was the best option available.
The French striker led the line against Liverpool over the weekend, and played a key role in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s opener when he wonderfully controlled Mesut Ozil’s cross, in which his blocked shot fell into the path of the Arsenal winger. Sanogo constantly made runs into the channels, while flustering Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel with his physical presence and dynamism.
Bayern Munich, however, is not Liverpool, they’re the best team in Europe and this presented a new challenge for the Arsenal striker. But Wenger’s inclusion of Sanogo was logical: here, he wanted to utilize his pace and great movement off the ball to attack the space behind Bayern Munich’s high-line.
Santi Cazorla’s long ball over the top of the Bayern back-line signified the approach, as the Frenchman broke free, but the ball rolled out of play. Afterwards, his strength in the area led to a scramble, which resulted in Manuel Neuer making a wonderful save to keep the score levelled and prevent Sanogo from scoring his first-goal as a Gunner.
Sanogo offers the mobility and pace that Giroud lacks, and with Bayern playing a high-line, and Theo Walcott unavailable, Giroud’s threat would be minimal. The 21-year-old displayed his work-rate in the first-half when he dropped deep to dispossess Javi Martinez, and then played a great ball into the right channel for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who nearly forced David Alaba into a horrendous error.
Sanogo’s impact on the match decreased once Wojciech Szczesny was sent off, but Wenger’s decision to include the Frenchman in the starting XI was logical.
Penalties, Penalties, Penalties
The main talking point surrounding the first half was the controversy in the penalty box. Arsenal pressed and harried the European champions in the opening 15 minutes, and Wenger’s men created the better chances.
The Gunners were rewarded for their positive start when Jerome Boateng made a clumsy tackle on Mesut Ozil, thus resulting in a penalty. Similar to his spot-kick against Marseille earlier this season, the German’s languid run-up led to Neuer comfortably batting away Ozil’s poor penalty.
Subsequently, the momentum shifted and Bayern began to connect their passes and dictate the tempo of the match. Despite lacking penetration, and struggling to shift the Arsenal back-line out of position, Wenger’s men dropped deeper towards their box.
It took a scintillating ball from Toni Kroos to Arjen Robben to carve open Arsenal’s defence, and it forced Szczesny to commit a reckless challenge on the Dutch winger. The Polish goalkeeper received a red card, which forced Lukasz Fabianski to enter the fray, while Santi Cazorla was sacrificed.
Alaba stepped to the spot, but was forced to patiently wait for Arsenal to make their changes, and during that time he witnessed a wall of Gunners supporters heckle and jeer him. It took approximately two minutes for Fabianski to enter the goal, and Alaba’s mind was clustered. The Austrian left-back sent the Polish goalkeeper the wrong way, but his shot hit the post.
Both sides received the opportunity to take the lead through well-deserved spot-kicks, but neither shooter coped with the pressure – however, Bayern’s man advantage gave Guardiola’s side the onus to push for an away goal.
For all the depth Bayern Munich possesses throughout their squad, the one player that doesn’t receive the credit he deserves is Toni Kroos. Kroos has been the heartbeat of Bayern’s creative play, and the 24-year-old midfielder saved his best performances for the European stage.
Last season at the Emirates, Kroos’ remarkable goal ignited a Bayern onslaught, but this time Szczesny saved his fantastic strike in the second minute. Yet, while Bayern struggled to cope with Arsenal’s energetic start, Kroos calmly settled Bayern into the match. He wandered around midfield looking for spaces to pick up the ball, and his precise passing helped his teammates come to grips with the frenetic pace.
Kroos’ passing was magnificent, and his ability to retain possession was also pivotal towards Bayern’s dominance. The German dynamo was at his best in the second half as Bayern picked up their tempo. Phillip Lahm cleverly created an angle for Kroos to fire an unstoppable shot into the top corner, to secure an important away goal.
The German was imperious in midfield and his long diagonal ball to Arjen Robben, followed by a well-weighed pass into Rafinha highlighted his creativity, but both wide players failed to provide an accurate final ball to increase Bayern’s lead. Kroos received an opportunity to kill the tie with seconds to spare, but his well-placed, low-driven shot ricocheted off the post.
It’s been nearly two years since Kroos’ master-class against Madrid , and his long-term injury forced him to miss last year’s road to Wembley. The German, however, is eager to display to the world that he’s Bayern’s key man, and arguably the best no.10 in the world, by guiding the Bavarians to their second consecutive Champions League triumph.