James Lawton: Arsene Wenger must face up to his most formidable task following Arsenal's defeat to Bayern Munich

The worst fears for Arsenal's slender hold on their old status were on the point of coming to a terrible fruition

In the end Arsenal gave everything they had. They scored a goal, which is something to say when it is Bayern Munich providing the opposition these days, but the truth, the dry-mouthed truth, was that it was never going to be enough.

Jack Wilshere, the young player who has come to represent so many of the team’s best and most maturely developed competitive instincts, made a gallant speech on behalf of his desperately beleaguered coach. He said it was for the players to take responsibility. He said that Arsène Wenger deserved better after 16 brilliant years.

The trouble is that for seven of those years the pattern has been going in the wrong direction – and it is one which simply would not be sustained or allowed at any of Arsenal’s leading rivals.

Maybe that was on Wenger’s mind when he raced away from the action without any of the usual rituals. He went into the night not only beaten but, surely, with a sense that his task has never been so formidable or discouraging.

The game had hardly begun but already it seemed like the end of something. There have been many blows, from some unlikely quarters, landed on the idea that Wenger might again make a team with some of the wit and the authority of his great ones but this from Bayern suggested it might well carry a new and maybe terminal level of brutality.

Two goals up in 21 minutes, Bayern were everything they were said to be as they await the arrival, from a position of near ludicrous strength, the world’s most celebrated coach, Pep Guardiola.

Arsenal’s leading shareholder Stan Kroenke had flown in from America on what suddenly seemed less a sombre mission of appraisal than a visit to a disaster area. How could anyone at the Emirates maintain under the weight of this onslaught that Arsenal, despite their high ranking among the world’s most valuable football clubs, still had anything like serious contact with the highest levels of the European game?

Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller scored goals that seemed not so much devastating strikes as formal possession of a God-given advantage. That the second of them was largely created by Daniel van Buyten, the replacement for superior defenders who was widely rated the nearest thing to a Bayern weak link, could only increase the latest look of devastation on the face of Wenger. Van Buyten had a free run at a corner kick and Müller formally smashed the ball into the roof of the net.

All the worst fears for Arsenal’s slender hold on their old status a as a front-rank force in the game were on the point of coming to a terrible fruition.

Or so it seemed when Jupp Heynckes, the veteran who wanted one more year with this team before Guardiola cherry-picked the best of his options, spent half- time happily underlining the extent of his team’s superiority. For Wenger the task must have been one of the most folorn of a brilliant career which has become increasingly not so much an expression of the ability which made one of football’s great coaches but an ever spiralling ordeal.

Yet Wenger said what he had to say. He said that quite a degree of pride was still involved in situation which had the potential to become a journey to one of the worst places of his career.

It worked – at least to a point. If Arsenal could not build significantly, at least in terms of the outcome of this tie which so many said had offered them hardly the scrapings of hope, on Lukas Podolski’s second-half goal, they could least show a little fight – a little resistance to the idea that they had become utterly inconsequential in the outcome of the most serious events home and abroad.

They did this well, enough, and if substitute Oliver Giroud had angled his shot a little more sharply when facing only Bayern’s largely unemployed goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who knows, we might have had a little more evidence that Arsenal were not prepared to serve as punch-bags for the masters of the Bundesliga?

But then if there was a little restitution of self-respect, unfortunately there was far from enough evidence that Arsenal indeed had the means to take something, even the merest hint of light, into the second leg in Munich. That possibility was put to the sword when Bayern’s marvellously fecund striker Mario Mandzukic ran beautifully to deliver a third goal.

On the touch-line, Wenger sagged again. He had talked of the mental strength of his team and their deep-seated ability before this trial and no doubt he will walk again to create something from the debris of defeat.

It is a forlorn task for a great football man for whom the weight of pressure had reached still another level.

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on pottermore site this morning

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

Charlie Sheen could be set to revive his role as a hedonistic womaniser

Life and Style
Jamie Oliver’s version of Jollof rice led thousands of people to post angry comments on his website
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes