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Arsenal Fall to Bayern Munich, Head for Another Trophyless Season

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Philipp Lahm of Bayern Muenchen celebrates after team-mate Mario Mandzukic scored their third goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between Arsenal and Bayern Muenchen at Emirates Stadium on February 19, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Michael CummingsWorld Football Lead WriterFebruary 19, 2013

Sometimes the simplest truths are the hardest to accept. For Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, after this latest and most illustrative of losses, they're also the most damning.

Bayern Munich romped past Arsenal on Tuesday night in the UEFA Champions League, winning comfortably and easily, 3-1, at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. The return leg is scheduled for three weeks in Munich, but the teams might as well play a training match instead.

Barring a supernatural occurrence, Arsenal will not advance to the Champions League quarterfinals. And when the inevitable finally becomes fact, the trophy drought will stand at eight interminable years.

Now, the simple truth of it: Arsenal simply were not good enough to beat Bayern Munich, nor will they be in three weeks' time. Bayern were simply better, and apart from a sloppy start to the second half, they demonstrated it with breathtaking ease.

What's more, Arsenal simply weren't good enough in any of their endeavors this season—not in the league, not in the League Cup and not in the FA Cup. In the first, they lie 21 points behind the leaders. In the second, they were defeated by a third-tier team. In the last, they lost at home to a team they beat 7-1 on the same ground a season ago.

Thus, with more than a week to go in February, Arsenal are reduced to chasing fourth place in the Premier League. And even the most blinkered of Gooners would admit Arsenal are outsiders for even that "trophy."

With the simple truths spoken, the inquest will begin in earnest. Defeat at home to Bayern Munich won't turn out to be Arsenal's worst result of the season, but with the world watching closely, it probably comes to sum up the club's decline under Wenger.

Undefeated English champions in 2003-04, FA Cup winners in 2005 and Champions League finalists in 2006, Arsenal have become a ghost of their former glories. Tuesday's defeat marked the first time since November 2010 that Arsenal have lost back-to-back home matches. And after regularly appearing in the latter stages of this competition in previous seasons, Arsenal now face elimination in the Round of 16 for the third straight season.

The result was no surprise, of course. The whole of Europe already knew about Bayern, their impressive Bundesliga lead and their almost impenetrable defense. It was a brutal draw, for sure, but only three days earlier Arsenal had crashed out of the FA Cup despite receiving what should have been a favorable matchup at home to Blackburn.

And it's true that Chelsea pulled off the impossible only a season ago, winning the entire competition despite finishing sixth in the Premier League. But the Blues did it with determination and defense. Apart from a brief second-half revival, Arsenal showed mostly dysfunction and discord against Bayern.

Bayern made mistakes, especially early in the second half. But with only the single exception, Arsenal failed to punish them.

"It was just easy for my team to play," Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes said (per Goal.com). Having viewed the evidence, most will have to agree.

Even Wenger, always the optimist to the point of myopia, was forced to note the gap between the teams:

Wenger: 'You have to give them credit for their class. In the first half in patches there was a difference in quality'

— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceIndy) February 19, 2013

This should be a tribute to Bayern Munich. After such a night of European destruction on foreign soil, this should be an ode to lethal efficiency—an appreciation for the combination of winning football and fiscal responsibility.

But it's not and it won't be. We already knew Bayern were good, and, in a sense, we also knew that Arsenal were broken. There can be no doubt about either now, only doubts over whether Wenger remains the right man for the North London job.

Once a revolutionary, Wenger is now either unable or unwilling to do what needs doing to fix his broken team. Certainly the situation is not solely his fault, but these days even Le Professeur seems uneasy in his normally urbane skin.

The trophies have stayed away for eight years now, but in all that time Arsenal at least kept qualifying for the Champions League. That's decidedly less than certain this season, and thanks to Tuesday's resounding defeat, this feels like the end of an era, one way or another.

Arsenal did eventually fight back against Bayern, but only when they found themselves behind by two goals and staring European elimination squarely in the eye. As so often this season, Arsenal needed theirs to be a lost cause before they could find the will to fight for it.

With another trophyless season now inevitable and a top-four finish far from certain, the Emirates Stadium might have witnessed its last Champions League match for quite some time.

 

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