Rice and Havertz react with despair. Alamy Stock Photo

Arsenal too predictable and cautious in painfully tame European exit

Arteta’s approach has taken Arsenal to their highest level in more than a decade – but based on tonight, it won’t bring them further without major change.

FOR ARSENAL, APRIL really is the cruellest month. 

First Aston Villa ruin their title challenge and now Bayern Munich have knocked them out of Europe. It’s suddenly all gone a bit last season. 

But where there was something wild and frantic and fragile about last year’s collapse, this one has been drab and gradual. It’s been a little like watching someone caught in quicksand calmly and stoically accepting their fate from the moment their ankles disappeared. 

These are the high-end trade-offs to Mikel Arteta’s approach. Control can morph into predictability; pragmatism becomes a deadening caution. 

So it proved in Munich, where Arsenal were beaten by a fitful and injury-depleted Bayern still reeling from the loss of their Bundesliga crown for the first time in more than a decade. Bayern were without their entire left side from the first leg as Serge Gnabry and Alphonso Davies were absent, while Kingsley Coman was unavailable too. Thomas Tuchel bemoaned the fact that his side had lost most of their speed but when it came down to it, they still had a chance of pace that Arsenal did not have. 

Through Leroy Sane, Jamal Musiala, Konrad Laimer, Raphael Guerreiro, Leon Goretzka, and Noussair Mazraoui, Bayern had explosive and direct running power. They had gears through which to move while they sometimes slipped through them too quickly and juddered and spluttered, Bayern at least always held the promise of something faster, something slicker, something…more.

Arsenal, by contrast, continued to move smoothly in their calibrated and machined ways, but it lacked any kind of inspiration or improvisation. That is ultimately not enough to get it done at this level. 

No team in Europe has their floor as close to their ceiling as Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. 

arsenals-manager-mikel-arteta-reacts-during-the-champions-league-quarter-final-second-leg-soccer-match-between-bayern-munich-and-arsenal-at-the-allianz-arena-in-munich-germany-wednesday-april-17 Mikel Arteta. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

They have become a little too predictable, and they continue to miss Granit Xhaka. He is the kind of midfielder who can take a game by the scruff of the neck, whereas Declan Rice and Jorginho are more likely to chivvy and quietly insist that that the game goes their way. 


Martin Odegaard has had to take on an even greater creative responsibility this season and Bayern knew it: hence they sat off to try and choke the channels to Odegaard, with Konrad Laimer let loose to yap at his heels. Thus disrupted, Arsenal struggle to get Bukayo Saka into dangerous positions. 

While Arsenal shaded the first-half and had the better chances, at no point did they stress Manuel Neuer. And when Bayern pulled back the throttle at the start of the second half – twice hitting the post in the minute after the break – Arsenal couldn’t match the pace. 



Bayern were also an advertisement for picking actual full-backs. Arsenal’s quartet of centre-backs bring solidity but offer too little going forward. Bayern, by contrast, allowed theirs to go surging forward, and thus it was Joshua Kimmich who ran off Gabriel Martinelli and into the box to slam in the winning goal. Moments later Sane should have made it 2-0, screwing the ball over the bar after another galloping run by the left-back, Mazroui. 

Arsenal don’t play with anything like that kind of abandon. Arteta responded to the goal by introducing Jesus and Trossard but his side kept on knitting their same patterns. Left-back Tomiyasu inverted to midfield as Ben White hung back in a back three. Arsenal’s intended effect was to funnel the ball to Odegaard: a tactic so understandable that Bayern could obviously read it too. 

Most galling for Arsenal is the fact they hardly threw a punch having fallen behind, failing to register another shot on target from that moment. Saka spent the last 15 minutes of the game up against an out-of-position Kim Minjae, but only once did Arsenal manage to get Saka isolated against him. It ended with Odegaard’s shot deflected wide for a corner that was bizarrely not awarded. But that was the sum total of their closing onslaught, Saka summing it all up by hitting a last-second corner against the first Bayern defender he could see. 

It was a painfully tame means of exit. 

Mikel Arteta is now in the realm of diminishing returns that Guardiola and Klopp have managed to conquer. Spending a hundred million pounds on a striker wouldn’t have helped Arsenal tonight as they didn’t create any chances to miss. 

Arteta’s assiduous gameplan has elevated Arsenal to their highest level in more than a decade. Based on tonight’s evidence, it won’t take them any further without a significant overhaul. 

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel