“The sending off was the killer blow,” the devastated manager reflected. “After that we kept attacking. It’s all right playing the history books but common sense has to come into it. When we went to 3-1 or 4-1 we should have settled for that. We kept attacking and we should have just said ‘we’ve had our day’. But our full-backs were playing like wingers. At times it was two versus three at the back. That was suicidal, crazy.”
That was Sir Alex Ferguson talking in October 2011 after his Manchester United team lost 6-1 at Old Trafford to Manchester City, one of the worst defeats of his reign. But it could just as easily have been Arsene Wenger last night, after his Arsenal team lost 5-1 at home to Bayern Munich. Or it could have been Wenger after the first leg in February, another 5-1 defeat, although in that game there was no red card.
There is a way to play when losing and Arsenal have shown in these two games against Bayern that they have no idea what to do as the game spiralled away from them. Rather than hanging into the game at 3-1, or closing it down at 4-1, they abandoned all control both times. In the first leg they lost their chance of getting back into the tie. In the second leg they lost their pride.
Arsenal 1 Bayern Munich 5 player ratings
Arsenal 1 Bayern Munich 5 player ratings
1/22 David Ospina – 6 out of 10
This Champions League tie may be Arsene Wenger's last as Arsenal manager
2/22 Hector Bellerin – 6 out of 10
Played well in the first half in attacking down the right to support Walcott, but was ineffective in the second and he fell asleep to allow Costa and Vidal in behind him for the fifth, though by that point the entire Arsenal side was asleep.
3/22 Shkodran Mustafi – 5 out of 10
Showed a nice pass to put Walcott in when he should have bagged a second, but the loss of Koscielny alongside him again exposed his weakness. Sloppy passing after the break, and completely gave up after the second goal.
4/22 Laurent Koscielny – 6 out of 10
Looked switched on from the get-go a he blocked Robben’s shot before deflecting two crosses out for a corner. However, the game turned again on his departure, as he tripped Lewandowski in the area without trying to play the ball, receiving a red card in the process.
5/22 Nacho Monreal – 5 out of 10
Got forward on occasion and offered support to Giroud as the striker preferred the left side of the Bayern defence. However, he simply isn’t good enough to defend at this level as he repeatedly played the Bayern attack onside.
6/22 Aaron Ramsey – 6 out of 10
Looked a yard short of his best given his lack of football, but grew into the game as it wore on. Won a free-kick just before the break with a nice turn on Martinez and started to have a bigger influence in the central role that he craves. Replaced when the game was done at 2-1.
7/22 Granit Xhaka – 6 out of 10
Looked much more controlled early on as he protected his back line and showed a nice passing ability to spray the ball from flank to flank. But with the collapse went his discipline, and picked up another booking for a terrible tackle on Rafinha.
8/22 Theo Walcott – 7 out of 10
Started the match with a point to prove and went about doing it in the perfect way. Two early runs should’ve alerted the danger, and the third produced the opener as he beat Neuer at his near post, seven years after his last Champions League knockout goal. Should’ve had a second from the same position, but fired into the side-netting. Much quieter in the second half, and probably the only Arsenal player who showed his best out there.
9/22 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 6 out of 10
Moved to a central role and enjoyed having more influence in the game. Drifted to the right on occasion but the end result was missing.
10/22 Olivier Giroud – 6 out of 10
In at the last minute for the ill Danny Welbeck. He brought a physical threat to Bayern, and nearly found the net with an early header after getting above Hummels. Missed na even better chance after the break when unmarked in the centre of the box, but somehow headed over.
11/22 Alexis Sanchez – 6 out of 10
A lively start on his return to the side, as he was providing the link between the midfield and Giroud up top. Gave away possession that nearly led to a Bayern goal for Lewandowski, and departed when Wenger knew the game was gone.
12/22 Manuel Neuer – 6 out of 10
It’s not often you can say he should have done better, but he should have done better. Punched Walcott’s fiercely struck effort high into the roof of his own net. Rarely tested otherwise.
13/22 Rafinha – 6 out of 10
Brought into the side for the suspended Philipp Lahm, and he did an adequate job of shackling Sanchez that forced him inside.
14/22 Javi Martinez – 6 out of 10
Booked for a cynical foul on Ramsey as he ran towards the Bayern area. Looked the weak link at the back, but once the Arsenal attack wilted he was allowed to run forward and nearly bagged himself a goal, heading just over.
15/22 Mats Hummels – 6 out of 10
Passed too easily by Walcott for the goal, and struggled to cope with the England winger’s pace on the left.
16/22 David Alaba – 6 out of 10
Struggled desperately with the Walcott-Bellerin combination on his flank, and his early shot at goal from a Robben corner was always curling away from the target.
17/22 Xabi Alonso – 7 out of 10
Apart from a corner that failed to beat the first man, he oozed control and class in the middle of the field. Happy to sit back and let his teammates take the plaudits, but he’ll be sorely missed.
18/22 Arturo Vidal – 8 out of 10
Lucky to get away with a high foot on Sanchez that could have brought a booking, and his early sighter at goal from long range wasn’t a handsome one. But as Bayern cut loose, so did he, and he linked up delightfully with Douglas Costa twice at the end to go home with two goals to his name.
19/22 Arjen Robben – 8 out of 10
Gave Monreal problems early as he cut in on his left foot, only to have his shot blocked. Saw another effort from the right well saved by Ospina. Lovely flick over the defence should’ve brought a goal from Lewandowski before the break. Aware enough to capitalise on Opsina’s poor clearance and link with Lewandowski to score his goal.
20/22 Thiago Alcantara – 8 out of 10
Another virtuoso performance from the midfield that is really starting to come of age. Links the play beautifully between midfield and Lewandowski.
21/22 Franck Ribery – 6 out of 10
Stood still and watched Walcott run away from him for the opener in a lazy daze. The only disappointment the Bayern attack.
22/22 Robert Lewandowski – 8 out of 10
Missed a sitter late in the first-half when put through by Robben, and he could only guide the ball wide of the far post. Split the Arsenal defence after the break to win a penalty and send Koscielny for an early bath, and tucked home the spot-kick coolly, as you’d expect. Should have had a second, but his close-range effort struck the post.
Teams reveal much about their character by the way that they lose and the way that this Arsenal team loses reflects very poorly on them. In both legs against Bayern Munich they suffered after losing Laurent Koscielny, as any team would after losing a defender of his quality and experience.
But both times it has been glaringly obvious how Shkodran Mustafi looks desperately lost without Koscielny alongside him. He has promise alongside Koscielny, punchy and assertive, but with any other partner he loses his bearings entirely, making a mockery of the fee, the best part of £30m, that Arsenal paid Valencia.
Just as damaging is the complete lack of any midfield shield, men who will protect the centre-backs, slow the game down and, if all else fails, get in the opposition’s way like sandbags preventing a flood. The game in Munich especially showed up the fact that the Francis Coquelin experiment has gone too far. Granit Xhaka is a talented player but is not a natural defender and he does not know how to tackle. Aaron Ramsey is a brilliant player on his day but is no defender either.
More pressing than either of these technical and tactical points is a simpler one. This is an Arsenal team that does not hate losing, and does not hate losing badly either. They lose in a way that no top side should do, and the longer these last days of Arsene Wenger drag on, the worse it is getting.
When United lost to City 6-1 over five years ago now, it was a freak result, and United recovered to come within inches of winning the 2011-12 Premier League title. Tuesday night’s loss at the Emirates was no freak. It is who Arsenal are now, as proven by the fact precisely the same game played out three weeks ago.
These are not the results of a healthy team, a balanced team or a happy team. They are a window into the desperate lack of control, direction and drive at the club, a failure of imagination that is going to see their most valuable man, Alexis Sanchez, leave this summer, no matter what anyone else does.
With Sanchez going, the reality is that Arsenal will get worse before they get better. But if they want to change direction and make sure that there are no more nights like this, no more defeats when the players lose their heads and embarrass themselves, Sanchez’s boss may have to follow him out of the door too.