Three factors combined to condemn Arsenal to a second debilitating defeat in days. The painful 3-1 home loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League came only four days after Arsenal were dumped out of the FA Cup by less-than fancied opposition in the form of Championship side Blackburn Rovers.
The first factor pertains to class, and this is the one I discuss in this article. I shall examine the other two in forthcoming articles.
As I read or listened to this match's preview on the Web and on television, it was quite clear that no one appeared to fancy Arsenal against Bayern Munich. The consensus seemed rather that Arsenal would lose.
For once, the English press' penchant for overstating the ability of English teams seemed to have deserted it. If anything, the mood appeared to swing toward dredging up Arsenal's and Arsene Wenger's failures in recent years.
But even as a supporter of Arsenal and of Wenger, I didn't need to rack my brain to see or understand why Arsenal’s chances seemed bleak in the eyes of the analysts. I only needed to look at the player list of both teams to see the gulf in class.
If, for example, one takes a closer look at the players who took to the field on Tuesday evening, one sees a Bayern Munich midfield trio of Toni Kroos, in the spearheading role; Bastian Schweinsteiger, in the bridging role; and Javi Martinez, whom, according to Tom Barlow of the Daily Mail, many consider "the best specialist defensive midfielder in Europe," a player Bayern acquired at the hefty sum of €40 million.
Writing immediately after the match and extolling the virtues of Kroos' opening goal for the German side, Daniel Taylor of The Guardian was sure that "Arsenal's supporters will understand a little better now why Kroos is so revered in his own country."
In the same report, he cited Schweinsteiger's "football intelligence," and who with the knowledge of this player can dispute this fact or that he is one of the best midfielders in the world?
In other words, on display for Bayern this Tuesday evening in the heart of the team's midfield were some of the best players in the profession.
When one compares this with Arsenal's midfield one finds Santi Cazorla, a fine player, very intelligent and assured in possession; Jack Wilshere, who performed Schweinsteiger's role for Arsenal, by far Arsenal's best player on the day, I believe; and Mikel Arteta, a very experienced player in his own right.
If it is said that Arsenal more than held their own here, especially taking into account Wilshere's driving runs and telling passes, and also that Arsenal's loss wasn't the result of being overrun in the midfield, a ready answer or such assurance cannot be found for Arsenal's two other departments.
Whereas Arsenal's defense was jittery and the collective defending of the team juvenile, Bayern's was solid in both respects. And whereas Bayern's flanks were well-oiled and functioned potently, the same could not be said of Arsenal's.
Lukas Podolski, through no fault of his own, was bottled, and Aaron Ramsey was overwhelmed. Both could not enjoy total freedom down their flanks because the threat of Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller persisted throughout the match.
But if there was an area where the difference in class appeared overwhelming, it was in the defense.
Where Bayern had Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, David Alaba, Dante and Daniel Van Buyten, Arsenal had Wojciech Szczesny, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Bacary Sagna.
In some respect, Arsenal’s lineup at the back wasn't bad.
But where Neuer can safely be said to be world-class (not without his own howlers from time to time), the same can't be said of Szczęsny, and whereas Lahm is one of the best full-backs in the world, the only one who comes close is Bacary Sagna, but his recent injuries haven't helped his game.
And if we say that Sagna was solid in his own area, the same can't be said of Vermaelen who played out of position and doesn't seem to enjoy playing at the full-back position.
In comparison Alaba is one of the most exciting young prospects in world football. The midfielder has been used in the last two seasons as a full-back, and for all intents and purposes, is very comfortable there.
Dante, many have said, has brought new-found solidity to Bayern's back line, and Van Buyten is an experienced international footballer.
Arsenal, on the other hand, have to contend with the oft jittery performances of their central defenders, international players, who, unfortunately, are yet to find their comfort zone in the Arsenal shirt.
In short, if one considers the players listed, the aforesaid idea of class becomes evident and rather defensible.
But even for the one inclined to arguing the point to the contrary, the same person must surely admit that as units, the German side was the better side in the contest; that one side played with a controlled, methodical strategy and cohesiveness while the other side did not. That the side with the advantage was Bayern is open to little argument.
If Arsenal are to become contenders in Europe rather than a team that makes up the numbers at the knockout stage of the Champions League, they must find a way to augment their ranks.
There is potential in all departments of the current team, but it isn't potential that matters when the chips are down, what matters is the quality that you can field on the day.
Arsenal need to sign a world-class central defender to give confidence to the ones the team already possesses, a world-class holding midfielder and a world-class striker.
Three players: enough, in my opinion, to take Arsenal to a higher rung of achievement.
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